By April Clisura
Fishes and Loaves Cooperative Ministries operations specialist Maureen Bobak welcomes guests for free lunch at 131 E. Elizabeth Street. Photo by Maureen Bobak
Fishes & Loaves Cooperative Ministries (FLCM) has welcomed a new staff member, Maureen Bobak, to serve as operations specialist. Since May, Ms. Bobak has managed many of the day-to-day aspects of FLCM’s busiest programs, Meals on Wheels, Emergency Food and Congregate Lunch. She joins the operations manager and part-time cook, plus a roster of 20 to 30 volunteers who help prepare and deliver meals.
Readers may remember Ms. Bobak, as she served as a crossing guard for many years in Hazelwood, and before that a time in Squirrel Hill, for a total of 34 years. She says she meets a lot of new people in her job and enjoys interacting, that it reminds her of her time as a crossing guard.
Since joining FLCM, the Hazelwood resident has observed, “People need and appreciate this [food] in a way that I never realized before working here.”
Ms. Bobak’s dedicated performance on the job could not come at a better time for FLCM. Demand for emergency food has been increasing since before the pandemic struck and continues to rise. Since price inflation and shortages started, FLCM has been struggling to obtain enough free and reduced-price food to fill the requests we get for emergency food.
The Fishes and Loaves Emergency Food service statistics from 2019-2021 tell part of the story of the pandemic. In 2020, the number of people receiving food, and the pounds of food distributed, increased three-fold from 2019. In 2021 the number of people receiving food went back to the 2019 level, but the need for food among recipients was greater than before: pounds of food distributed remained 50% higher than it was in 2019, which might indicate people’s less stable circumstances during the pandemic, such as reduced income due to trouble finding childcare.
Demand for Meals on Wheels peaked in 2020 but remained 14% higher in 2021 than it was before the pandemic. The number of people picking up free grab-and-go Congregate Lunch meals also peaked in 2020 and has returned to the 2019 level. The number of meals distributed remains lower than it was in 2019, indicating a change in the way the free lunch program is used: fewer repeat visitors. Hopefully the sense of community that repeat visitors create will return once we reach a “new normal” with the pandemic.
Contact Fishes and Loaves Cooperative Ministries by calling 412-499-4313 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org for information on any of our services.
April Clisura is a Fishes and Loaves board member.