Sewickley nonprofit seeks volunteers to stock hospital pantries

Friday, June 7, 2019 | 6:00 AM

Terri Burgard, a board member and volunteer with Christopher’s Kitchen, drives more than 30 miles from her Evans City home to UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh every week. As the nonprofit organization’s main shopper, she delivers the food that makes it into the hospital’s pantries.

Christopher’s Kitchen, Burgard said, now stocks six pantries at Children’s Hospital and three at the Lemieux Family Center on Penn Avenue — up from just one pantry in the Children’s emergency department when the organization was founded more than a year ago.

Burgard is one of five regular volunteers who delivers nonperishable food and stocks pantries in order to provide food and drink to families caring for admitted children. But the organization needs more help.

“We have very few volunteers right now,” Burgard said. “We need volunteers desperately, because (for) the four of us it’s getting a little tough.”

While Burgard handles most of the shopping, other volunteers visit Children’s Hospital each Monday, Wednesday or Friday. They typically follow a set schedule and spend about an hour at a time stocking the pantries, according to Christopher’s Kitchen board member Amy Garrison.

“Once that closet’s filled, it lasts for a week, so you can get on our schedule for a Wednesday and you’d just go in, you’d show your credential, go to our closet, there’s a little process we have to teach you,” Garrison said. “Then you fill the pantries.”

Each volunteer must obtain the proper clearances, including medical vaccinations and background checks. Christopher’s Kitchen has a brief training process for new volunteers.

Through SignUpGenius, anyone who has undergone the process can schedule themselves to stock pantries from now through the end of the year. Whether it’s once a week or once a month, Garrison said the organization just wants to see a commitment.

Volunteers now handle about $500 worth of food each week, an amount that has grown rapidly, according to Burgard. Funding for the food largely comes from a handful of recurring events that Christopher’s Kitchen hosts.

Burgard said the recent Cinco de Mayo event at St. James Church in Sewickley drew more than 300 people.

On July 7, the organization is hosting its second “Rock to Stock” benefit concert. The event features local music acts and food trucks, and attendees are invited to donate money and food.

Pittsburgh Community Food Bank has helped offset food costs. Christopher’s Kitchen buys a portion of its food from the organization at a reduced price, through a partnership that started in May.

Some individuals have even run their own food drives.

“We’ve had a few really great food drives that people have held for us, and it supplemented our shopping tremendously,” Garrison said.

But while Christopher’s Kitchen has established strong community partnerships and funding sources, Garrison said finding volunteers to stock the hospital pantries remains the organization’s greatest need.

After the death of her 16-year-old stepson, Christopher, Joni D’Alessandro recognized a need and formed the nonprofit, based in Sewickley.

Burgard said she wants potential volunteers to know how rewarding it is to serve families of children who visit the emergency room.

“They are so thankful, because most of them came there in an emergency … They might have woken up in the morning and not had breakfast, and something happens and they have to jump and run,” she said.

Children, she added, can spend anywhere from hours to several days and longer at the hospital, and giving families easy access to free food can save a lot of money and stress.

“No matter what else I do in this world, I helped somebody that was hungry, you know, took away that food insecurity for a while,” Burgard said of her experience.

“It puts a smile on their face and it just warms you. It’s amazing.”

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