The parking lot at Pittsburgh International Airport, left vacant by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on travel, this week will turn itself into one of the largest ever emergency food banks in the region.
The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank expects to distribute about 3,000 boxes of food on Wednesday, April 22, beginning at 1 p.m., agency officials said. They expect to provide food boxes to about 1,500 vehicles.
“The airport is an ideal location,” said Lisa Scales, President & CEO of Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. “It will be one of our largest distributions to date. Based on logistics, this is hopefully going to be one of our easiest and smoothest distributions.”
Earlier this month, lines of cars heading for a food distribution in Downtown Pittsburgh stretched for miles, drawing national headlines. Because of growing demand for donations, the Food Bank began looking for more ideal locations to help minimize traffic and ensure proper social distancing measures.
That’s when Pittsburgh International Airport offered to help.
“Pittsburgh International Airport is an integral part of the community. Our facilities will always be used to help the region – and now, with traffic down and large, quiet spaces available, we are finding new ways to serve,” said Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis. “We are proud to partner with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank for this event and we look forward to assisting those in need.”
The Food Bank launched its emergency food distribution program in March. Since then, the 40-year-old nonprofit has donated more than 400,000 pounds of food at locations including a food bank facility in Duquesne, Pa. and Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena.
Pittsburgh International sits on nearly 9,000 acres and is currently experiencing a drastic decline in travel demand, leaving large amounts of underutilized space, particularly in its parking lots. The food distribution operation will be a first-ever for a major airport.
Food bank and airport staff, community volunteers, Allegheny County Police, and the Pennsylvania National Guard will be onsite to assist with the food distribution.
To ensure proper social distancing practices, the distribution will involve a drive-up service, with volunteers loading the food into vehicle trunks and backseats, while drivers and passengers remain inside their cars.
Pittsburgh isn’t the only city experiencing an increasingly high demand for food.
More than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the past four weeks. Data provided by the nonprofit organization Feeding America reports that 98 percent of U.S. food banks are experiencing an increase in demand for donations in the past month. Additionally, 59 percent of food banks nationwide are experiencing inventory shortages due to the pandemic.
Cassotis explained that Pittsburgh International, like other U.S. airports, is working to repurpose its space during a period of record-low passenger traffic.
Airport officials are working to reduce operating costs by temporarily closing some concourses, parking lots and security checkpoints, among other areas in and around the terminal.
“Using the space we have at the airport for something like this makes sense,” Cassotis said. “We’re part of this community and we want to help, until we can get through this crisis and get everyone moving again.”