Forging Forward: Food from the Heart

Forging Forward 2022 is a series of six articles about organizations helping our region make progress on the significant issues challenging our friends and neighbors. The series is presented with the generous support of The Pittsburgh Foundation.  

The #ONEDAY Critical Needs Campaign, a day of online giving to organizations doing vital work, is on August 9: mark your calendars and plan to be part of something great!

One of the most famous parables of the Bible has Jesus, through faith and love, feeding five thousand people with five loaves and two fishes. This metaphor for multiplying goodness in the service of others is the backbone of Fishes & Loaves Cooperative Ministries. Based in the Hazelwood community of Pittsburgh, this nonprofit organization offers Meals on Wheels, congregate lunch, emergency food, and a buying club for residents of Hazelwood, Glenwood, Glen Hazel and most of Greenfield.

After the last grocery store closed in the Hazelwood community more than a decade ago, the community decided to start a buying club and shopping service to serve their neighbors and friends. “This was before Instacart,” said Tom Berna, operations manager. “We started shopping twice a month for about 15 to 20 families. When the pandemic hit, those numbers doubled. And we continue to serve 60 to 70 clients a day, five days a week,” he added.

The organization operates out of St. Stephen Catholic Church Pastoral Center and utilizes a commercial kitchen and pantry storage in the Spartan Community Center of Hazelwood.

While Meals on Wheels is the noprofit’s primary focus, serving more than 100 people a week, it also created a grab-and-go program where people have the option to dine and congregate with other community members. It also offers an emergency food program, which originated during the pandemic.

“In 2018, people would call and say, “I don’t have any food in my house.” We started to think about this: ‘Why don’t we deliver emergency food?’ We began giving out food and by 2021, we gave out 12,000 pounds of food to 100 families. We are one of the few food pantries that deliver. We get calls from people who can’t get to us, providing food once-a-month within a seven-mile radius,” said Tom, a former engineer-turned-deacon who, prior to coming to Pittsburgh worked around the country in hospitals and prisons.

Through this work, Tom and his team have also provided wellness checks, connecting community members to other resources and support systems. He and his team are often the first people who connect with those in need of help.

“I was bringing food to one home and the woman answered the door in a bedsheet. Her boyfriend had taken all of her clothes, and her children’s clothing, too. We were able to find her support so that she could send her children back to school, properly clothed, and so that she could get back to work, as well,” he said.

Never knowing what he may encounter, leading with compassion and an open heart has served him well over the years. Not only does Fishes & Loaves feed the body, but the work nourishes peoples’ souls, too.

“It gives people hope that there is help available and there are people doing it out of the kindness of their hearts,” said Tom. The organization currently has two part-time employees and 20 volunteers. During the pandemic all have worn masks and gloves and implemented contactless delivery service and grab-and-go lunches.

“When the government checks went out during Covid, we saw a decrease in need for emergency food. But once those checks ran out, the demand went right back up again,” he noted. Working with The Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank and 412 Food Rescue, the nonprofit has been able to provide fresh and shelf-stable foods that are nutritious and delicious. “Once in a while we get pastries from Giant Eagle, which is always a nice treat,” he said.

Groups like The Pittsburgh Foundation help provide Fishes & Loaveswith the funds it needs to continue its mission. “This work is why I get out of bed in the morning,” said Tom. “When we help our neighbors, we uplift everyone.”

Join The Pittsburgh Foundation’s ONE DAY campaign to provide support to Fishes & Loaves Community Ministry on Aug. 9. Together, we can create a healthy, more equitable world.

Get to know Fishes & Loaves Cooperative Ministries here, and support its work to address our neighbors in need.

Read about other organizations doing vital work to help our neighbors in Western Pennsylvania by reading more in our Forging Forward series, presented with the support of The Pittsburgh Foundation:

Tech 25: The Future is Now

Outreach Teen and Family Services

Neighborhood Legal Services

Fishes and Loaves

Build the Community Center

Healthy Start

Easing the food insecurity of our neighbors is the mission of Fishes and Loaves. Photo by Jeff Swensen

Tom Berna, operations manager for Fishes and Loaves, loads up supplies. Photo by Jeff Swensen

Fishes and Loaves delivers to residents of Hazelwood, Glenwood, Glen Hazel and most of Greenfield. Photo by Jeff Swensen


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