Over the past month, it seems that the news of a natural disaster striking a different area of the country has been a nightly occurrence. Whether a tornado or a flood, disaster announcements seem to be as much a part of the news as the wars or the economy. But what about those disasters that aren’t covered by the news and are happening around kitchen tables every night?
Last week on a trip to Pittsburgh, I volunteered with the newly formed Pennsylvania Wants to Work—an organization that advocates for the needs of unemployed and underemployed workers and brings them together around community volunteer activities and community service.
On this particular day, after a meeting with AFL-CIO Community Service Liaison, Joe Delale, I was told the group would be volunteering at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank (GPCFB).
This would not be a normal day of volunteering.
Approximately 45 minutes before the doors were to open for the second shift, a slow, steady stream of folks began to arrive outside the doors. They streamed in like so many Pittsburghers had done for so many years at shift changes at now-gone plants and mills. They arrived both in groups and as individuals—carrying with them children, boxes and carts for their food. As opening time approached, the crowd grew and grew, just as the storm clouds overhead had grown and gotten darker.
As the doors opened and those in need of food began to form lines, rain started to fall and the volunteers began loading groceries—the food bank was now not only a place offering assistance with food, but was also providing shelter from the storm outside. By days’ end, more than 515 families came through the doors of just this one facility. Five hundred and fifteen families were able to collect produce, take it home and enjoy the dignity of providing a prepared meal around the table to their families.
And there are some who would like to eliminate these very places through budget cuts.
The need for services such as food banks has been steadily increasing, but legislators have been proposing extreme cuts to these very programs that help those in need. We can’t allow this. As put by the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank CEO, Joyce Rothermel:
Everyone has a right to food. When that can’t be achieved through work, it’s the role of society to come together and ensure people are fed. We advocate for public policies that guarantee the right of food. When not achieved legislatively, food banks serve as a safety net so that no one goes hungry.
According to GPCFB, children in “food insecure” homes are twice as likely to suffer poor health and one third more likely to be hospitalized. Well-established government programs such as Food Stamps, WIC, school breakfast and lunch can do more to alleviate hunger than any single food bank can. These programs improve the lives of our children and our communities.
The union movement wholeheartedly supports these programs.
Throughout the history of organized labor, union members have consistently worked to help the underserved and speak out for the voiceless. Delale puts it this way:
Food banks are vital to our community. As you know, Pittsburgh has gone through some rough times with plant and mill closings. This has only increased our presence around community service activities. In many cases, those are our brothers and sisters who are in need and we would never abandon them.
The attacks on food banks and similar organizations that truly serve as lifelines to those in need are certainly not limited to just those in Pennsylvania. As we’ve seen recently, radical proposals from corporate shills throughout the United States are at an all-time high. This is food for children we’re talking about. Besides being immoral, cuts to food programs hurt the future of our nation
Just as we’ve always done, the labor community stands against these sorts of attacks. We stand in solidarity with those under attack. We Are One!