By Jocelyn Buhite, PRSA Pittsburgh Public Service Committee Member
Everyone needs help at some point. Providing food, childcare, housing and other essential needs is a challenge for many families in the Pittsburgh region. Yet, stigma or shame leaves individuals afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. For more than fifty years, the South Hills Interfaith Movement (SHIM) has been there to help people meet basic needs, achieve self-sufficiency and build community. This year, the PRSA Pittsburgh Chapter selected SHIM as our partner to receive pro-bono PR and communications support through the 2022 Public Service Committee. I sat down with Seth Dubin, the Director for Development and Communications at SHIM to learn more about their work.
Seth started by sharing the story of one community member that has really stuck with him and captures the spirit of SHIM’s work. Seth was volunteering at the organization’s food pantry and encountered a man who clearly wasn’t enthusiastic about asking for help. As the two of them walked around looking for groceries, Seth learned that the man lost everything due to a flood, including his car. Since he couldn’t get to work without a car, he also lost his job.
In addition to providing the man with food that day, SHIM was able to provide financial aid to get his car repaired so that he could look for work again. Before the man left, Seth told him that he could always come back, and SHIM would be there for him. Seth said that he could feel the gratitude that the man had, the same gratitude that many others have when leaving SHIM’s pantry.
“Because of our 250+ volunteer force and frontline staff, we are able to work directly with families. Prior to the pandemic, all our pantries were shop through and that was intentional. It provides the dignity that people deserve when they are asking for help, allows them to pick the things that they want and leave the things that they don’t, and allows the establishment of a relationship between the client and volunteer. From those conversations comes so much and we have that ability programmatically to respond to a variety of needs that people would present,” Seth said.
Answering the challenges posed by the pandemic and inflation
SHIM was formed by a priest, rabbi and minister who wanted to create an inclusive community and address the challenges faced by people living in suburban poverty. SHIM has always adapted to meet the most pressing needs in the South Hills, but food insecurity, or the inability to consistently access nutritious and affordable food, has remained a top priority in this region. The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on food insecurity, as many community members found themselves out of work and the highest inflation rate in decades made grocery bills increase.
Food insecurity disproportionately impacts communities of color and is particularly prevalent in our region. The 2020 FeedPGH Report stated one in five Pittsburgh residents live with food insecurity, nearly double the national average. One of the many factors that contribute to food insecurity is the housing crisis which has also impacted our region According to the Pew Research Center, 23% of renters are spending more than half of their income on housing, as the average U.S. rent has risen 18% over the last five years and the median home sale prices have surged.
SHIM serves over 7,500 individuals through its food, clothing, financial assistance, education, family support and community building programs every year. From the results of a recent program evaluation, SHIM is planning to align its existing programs through a mentorship program to address the toxic stress that accompanies poverty. The mentorship program will help people establish goals that lead them to self-sufficiency using the EMPath framework. While SHIM’s programming and service operations continue to grow, it recognizes that it cannot do everything on its own.
Stitching together a quilt of community support through partnerships
“At SHIM, we realize that we aren’t the answer to everything. While we do a lot and have a comprehensive list of programs, we cannot do it alone. Within the Pittsburgh ecosystem of social services, we have the ability to partner for more power,” Seth said.
The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank helps stock SHIM’s pantry and the Department of Human Services of Allegheny County supports SHIM’s after school program, summer camp and Baldwin family center. Additionally, the United Way of Southern Pennsylvania provides funding for SHIM’s programs and SHIM partners with Jewish Family and Community Services on the ISAC program that provides immigrant connection services.
Nearly 50% of the refugees in the greater Pittsburgh region reside in the South Hills, as well as a vibrant immigrant community. SHIM was founded on interfaith, multicultural principles of service and inclusion and continues to be dedicated to creating an inclusive community where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. SHIM’s continued service to individuals and the South Hills community is a perfect embodiment of Mr. Fred Rogers’ call to be a good neighbor.
Jocelyn is a member of the PRSSA Chapter at Slippery Rock and a volunteer on the PRSA Pittsburgh Public Service Committee. She is currently also a Marketing Communications Intern at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council
Share your skills
We are currently recruiting volunteers to join the Public Service Committee and support the PRSA-Pittsburgh/SHIM partnership. To learn more visit the 2022 Public Service page or reach out to committee chair Austin Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) directly.