The Almanac – South Hills Interfaith Movement’s annual March to Sack Hunger, Pack Hope campaign owes much of its success to schools, churches and other organizations helping with in-kind services, most notably conducting food drives.
“All of that was planned for, and then when we got to March 13 and the schools started closing that Friday afternoon. That’s where we had to shift quickly, because obviously, the school drives were not going to be happening,” said Jim Guffey, SHIM executive director.
“But through our social media and our efforts in general in that context, we really started promoting the idea of: Your support is meaningful if you do it online.”
SHIM’s motto is “neighbors helping neighbors,” and that’s exactly what happened as COVID-19 considerations disrupted business as usual for the Bethel Park-based nonprofit.
This year’s March to Sack Hunger raised a record-breaking $110,000, with a 97% increase in contributions received online compared with 2019. The money benefits SHIM’s three food pantries, in Baldwin Borough, Whitehall and Bethel Park.
“I couldn’t say enough about the general heartwarming generosity of the South Hills,” Guffey said. “It’s unbelievable.”
The extra support has been necessary: In March, SHIM experienced a 21% increase over the same month last year in terms of households seeking help with basic needs like food and financial assistance.
“Clearly, we’re seeing huge increases of people in need, a lot of new faces,” Guffey reported. “And we expect that need is going to continue for the next several weeks, months and time ahead.”
For now, the SHIM pantries are distributing prepackaged boxes of food, and to ensure safety throughout the process, volunteers are adhering to social distancing, wearing gloves and masks at all times and sanitizing all surfaces.
One of the organization’s goals is to provide nutritional choices, and the run on grocery stores when COVID-19 reached crisis mode was cause for concern.
“Quite honestly, when you walked into the supermarkets and saw a lot of empty shelves, the last thing we really wanted was for folks to feel like, I’ve got to do something, so I’ll just buy whatever is left,” Guffey explained. “A lot of what was left wasn’t exactly what families would need. So we were really concerned about that.”
The financial support has helped keep SHIM’s shelves sufficiently stocked with appropriate items, and the nonprofit’s 52 years of building relationships within the community has helped ensure its solvency through troubled times.
“We’ve always made sure our fiscal house was in order so that we could survive,” Guffey said. “And then when you see this outpouring, we’re in a good place for today. We believe we’ve done the prudent things to be here in a good place in the days ahead.”
To donate to the South Hills Interfaith Movement, visit shimcares.org/give. More information about SHIM’s essential services during the pandemic, including its food pantries, can be found at shimcares.org/covid-19-resources. Anyone in need of urgent assistance can contact SHIM’s main office at 412-854-9120.