Why food pantries are especially important during the winter

Molly Patterson, Operations Coordinator

It’s hard to believe there are people in our community who are going to bed hungry. In a community with some of the area’s best school districts, there are 4,000 children in the South Hills that qualify for free or reduced lunches. Believe it or not, suburban poverty is increasing at an alarming rate.

For these reasons – and more – food pantries provide a vital resource to our community.

During a typical month, our three pantries are visited 779 times by local families. That’s approximately 1,600 people, 35% of which are children.

Food pantries help families put healthy meals on the table, obtain personal care items, baby food, diapers and household cleaning supplies, and take home fresh items like meat, cheese, eggs and produce.

While food pantries provide an important supplement for struggling households throughout the entire year, they are typically busier during cold weather months. Here at SHIM, we typically find a 13% increase in visits from November – February.

This uptick in visits is due to a number of reasons, making the winter months a critical time to support our families and SHIM.

  • Costs are high: Families often face extra expenses toward the end of the year. From holiday gifts, to food for family gatherings, to heating bills – household spending is high this time of year. Using the food pantry helps families who are making ends meet throughout the rest of the year stretch their budgets and save money for other critical expenses.
  • Staying healthy: By coming to the food pantry, families are also able to find healthy options, helping them to fight off a nasty cold or flu during these cold-weather months. Thanks to SHIM’s partnership with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and local retailers, our food pantries are able to provide fresh produce even when our community gardens are not growing in the winter. Other pantry staples help families prepare warm, healthy meals during the winter and throughout the year.
  • Seasonal work: Many local neighbors might also work jobs that are seasonally based, such as landscaping or construction. While gainfully employed most of the year, these harsh winter months may cause hardship for their household, so turning to a food pantry might be necessary.
  • Kids are home: Even if just for a couple of weeks, kids are home from school, meaning they might be missing out on a school-provided lunch – and maybe even breakfast, too. Faced with the need to feed a child, or perhaps multiple children, three meals a day can strain a family’s budget. The food pantry is a way for parents to ensure their children are still getting balanced meals at home.
  • Seeking holiday cheer: Families may also seek out a food pantry for a sense of community. At SHIM, we strive to create a welcoming atmosphere for all of our families. During this season, food pantries can provide a sense of hope and camaraderie for those who are struggling or alone – especially for seniors.

At SHIM, we are always in need of donated items, including non-perishable food items, toiletries, baby food, and more. SHIM purchases many items for its pantries from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, where our buying power is 500% greater than purchasing food at supermarket prices.

If you feel compelled to give this holiday season to support those in our community who might be struggling, check out our most needed items or give today.