A lot can change in 50 years. In 1968, South Hills Interfaith Movement was known as ‘South Hills Ministry in the Mall’ and consisted of a small makeshift operation in the newly developed South Hills Village. With the opening of the organization, many needs were realized, and we quickly outgrew our space in the mall and became ‘South Hills Interfaith Ministries.’
As our community has shifted, so have we. During the 1980s, as the steel industry collapsed in the region, SHIM focused on employment skills and services. During the 1990s, the work centered around helping people who were chronically homeless. And today, we have our community’s current needs at the heart of our work.
Throughout our organization’s 50 years, there has been great change in our area. We’ve uncovered different needs and evolved to meet them, welcomed new neighbors, and gained support from old and new friends.
We took time to reflect on some of the biggest changes we’ve seen throughout our history as an organization:
Suburban poverty continues to grow. Over the last 50 years here in the South Hills, we have seen an increase in the number of people who need our help. There are 9,000 potential neighbors who are in need of support. Since 2000, suburban poverty rates in the suburbs of major cities increased 25%, almost five times faster than in urban areas.
In the South Hills, 20% of families make less than $35,000 per year, making them eligible for SHIM’s food pantry and clothing room, utility assistance, and free or reduced lunches. In fact, in 2016 we opened a third food pantry and served 800 more neighbors with healthy food and produce.
The refugee population has steadily increased. When SHIM was formed 50 years ago, the area was not home to the many refugees that reside in the South Hills today. We are proud to see this population change and welcome our new neighbors to the area. Today, the South Hills is home to the largest group of refugees and immigrants in the area, many of whom came from refugee camps.
But settling in a new country, where you don’t speak the language, your college degree might no longer be valid, and your family and friends are thousands of miles away is beyond challenging for our new neighbors. As the number of foreign-born neighbors has steadily increased over the years, we have adapted to ensure our new friends are able to settle and find the support they need to get a job, feed their families, and ensure their children are making new friends and succeeding in school and life.
More neighbors are raising their hands. Just as our three founders – Rev. John Galbreath of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Rabbi William Sajowitz of Temple Emanuel and Monsignor Francis Rooney of St. Thomas More Catholic Church – took a stand for their community 50 years ago, more and more neighbors have partnered with SHIM to make a difference every year. This year’s Sack Hunger, Pack Hope campaign engaged hundreds of individuals who raised dollars and food to stock the shelves of our three food pantries.
SHIM currently has 280 people volunteering on a regular basis, and many more who get involved with special events and needs. We receive generous donations daily – whether it be clothing, food, dollars, or sometimes even a call to see if there is a neighbor we know who might need other help. We could not do the work we do without the support from our community.
We are proud to be part of such a growing, ever-changing community, where every year, neighbors show up for one another. In the last 50 years, a lot has changed, but we wouldn’t be where we are today – as a community or as an organization – without the caring people of the South Hills.
Here’s to another 50 years together, South Hills.
By Jim Guffey, executive director, SHIM