Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Join us at City Council

MONDAY, DECEMBER 1st, 10 am--Four citywide anti-hunger organizations will be speaking at the City Council Public Hearing next Monday, Dec. 1 at 10am asking City Council to fund $434,800 for the Hunger Fund. Just Harvest initiated this budget item in the 80's when we decided to ask Council to take some responsibility to counter hunger.

Joining Just Harvest, the other organizations asking for funding for increasing hunger are: Greater Pgh. Community Food Bank, Pgh. Community Services, Inc. and Hunger Services at the Urban League. Just Harvest uses these funds to reduce hunger by helping working people get tax credits, by recruiting new sites for Summer Food programs and by helping people with Welfare problems.

The public is invited to speak in support of this request. Share your personal experience; tell the City Council to expand the Pittsburgh Hunger Fund, to support funding for anti-hunger organizations, to prioritize safety net issues in the 2009 City Budget. Tens of thousands can't afford to put food on the table. To sign up to speak, call the City Clerk's Office at (412) 255-2138. Each speaker gets three minutes to testify. Join us at the City County Building at 414 Grant St. on the 5th floor next Monday to protect Pittsburgh's safety net.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Unique gifts for a great cause

On Saturday December 6th, Pittsburgh Cares is sponsoring their Nonprofit Marketplace at Chatham University. Each vendor at this one day "shopping mall" of handmade and unique gifts chooses a nonprofit beneficiary to receive a portion of their sales. A part of the proceeds from Dawn Glassworks will benefit Just Harvest. Dawn Wallhausen, our former Administrative Assistant, chose Just Harvest as the beneficiary for the nonprofit share of her sales of her handmade glass-bead jewelry. Come out and support Pittsburgh Cares, Dawn Glassworks and Just Harvest for this family-friendly shopping event with unique gifts for a great cause!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Blue Collar Black Tie Affair

In recognition of the Peoples' Pittsburgh 250th, join Senator Jim Ferlo and a cast of notable Pittsburgh doers and givers for a lively evening of stories, images and songs from The Point of Pittsburgh book and CD. Dress up your blue collar or dress down your black tie, but wear your pride in Pittsburgh for all to see!

In the spirit of giving embodied by Johnny Appleseed and other historical Pittsburgh heroes, bring a bag of non-perishable food items. Event benefits Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank and Just Harvest.
$35 ticket buys admission, plus book, CD & poster.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Just Vote Guide published

Just Harvest's 2008 General Election Voters Guide is hot off the press and packed with important information about the upcoming election. We included information about voting for newly registered voters, answers to frequently asked questions about voting and an On the issues section which includes the Presidential candidates views on crucial issues such as Hunger and Food Assistance, Poverty, Tax Credits for Low-Income People and Health Care. We also compiled candidate surveys for US Congress, Allegheny County and State legislative races. To download a pdf version of our 2008 General Election Voters Guide, click here.

Kudos to Just Harvest intern Lou Hanson for the candidate research for this publication.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Just Vote

October 6th marks the deadline to submit voter registration forms, and Just Harvest's Just Vote Campaign registered over 300 new voters over the past few months. On Friday, September 26th, Just Harvest joined the Pennsylvania League of Young Voters, Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and other organizations at the Allegheny County Jail to register inmates eligible to vote. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "The 2-hour drive signed up 456 voters and took in 700 absentee ballot requests." To read the front page coverage of the event from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, click here.

Just Harvest will release a non-partisan voter guide to over 6,000 households mid-October. If you are interested in receiving this informational guide about both local and presidential candidate's positions on important hunger and poverty-related issues, please e-mail us at :

HOW YOU CAN HELP: We need volunteers for phone banking during the month of October! If you are interested in informing and mobilizing registered voters to get out there and VOTE, then call us at : 412 . 431 . 8960.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Food Stamp Program Update

Starting October 1, 2008, the Food Stamp Program is getting better--especially for working families! Improvements include an increase in income guidelines, child care cost deductions, and no limit on resources.

NEW INCOME GUIDELINES (as of October 1, 2008)
_Household Size_______ Monthly income limit (gross)_
______2_______________________ $1,517 ____________
______3_______________________ $1,907 ____________ ______4_______________________ $2,297____________
______5_______________________ $2,687____________

By eliminating the limit on resources, you may now qualify for food stamps even if you have money in the bank or other property.

And now the Food Stamp Program will deduct all of your child care costs from your income, giving families with high child care costs more food stamps.

If you've applied for food stamps before, and have been denied because of these reasons, you may be eligible now. Call Eugenia at Just Harvest : 412 . 431 . 8963 to apply over the phone.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Food Stamp Numbers on the Rise...

New data from the PA Department of Public Welfare shows as of August 2008, 1,214,802 people receive food stamps in PA. This is the highest total in 13 years, and is the 13th consecutive monthly increase. In Allegheny County, we've reached the highest total since the mid-1990's, and there are 116,972 people who currently receive food stamps.

According to FRAC (The Food Research and Action Center) president, Jim Weill, food costs for low-income families jumped 8.5% from June 2007-June 2008. As it gets harder for families to buy food, the demand for assistance escalates, and we need more from the Food Stamp Program. We need more relief for the increasing number of people who can no longer provide food for their families.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Just Harvest needs your help labeling our Food Stamp brochures so we can distribute them to places that need them: schools, doctor's offices and other organizations. Join our efforts to help people who can't afford to put food on the table.
Call us at : 412 . 431 . 8960 to volunteer.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Just Harvest's 20th Anniversary Celebration Dinner

Come celebrate our 20th Anniversary Harvest Celebration Dinner with us on Tuesday evening, October 28th, 2008 at the Omni William Penn, Downtown Pittsburgh.

This year, we proudly honor Senator Jim Ferlo with our 6th Seeds of Justice Award for his long time activism and advocacy for the poor and working people.

Our Guest Speaker, Robert Kuttner, is co-editor of The American Prospect magazine, co-founder of the Economic Policy Institute, anchor, journalist, and frequent commentator on economic policy issues. His most recent book, Obama's Challenge: America's Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency, delves into what a President Obama "must do to solve America's economic crisis--the gravest since the Great Depression--and, in the process, become a truly transformative leader." (Chelsea Green Press) For more about Mr. Kuttner, click on his name above to be redirected to his official website; to read his blog, click here.

Tickets cost $45 each or $400 for a table of 10.
Purchase tickets online at : or contact us by phone at : 412 . 431 . 8960 for more information.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Upcoming Events

So many interesting things happening in the next few weeks....

Saturday evening, Sept. 13, 2008 – Club Cafe, Southside
CD Release Party – The Point of Pittsburgh – Happy Birthday to Pittsburgh and all Those who built it -1758- 2008
- featuring Mike Stout and the Human Union, the Newlanders, and Charles McCollester, author and historian who will be there to autograph his book, The Point of Pittsburgh
Doors open @ 6, show @7- tickets $15
Saturday September 20 and Sunday September 21, 2008
Conference - Say No to Torture: “Talking About Torture”
412-371-3607 or for more information
Monday evening, September 22, 2008- 7PM
Epiphany Catholic Church, 1018 Centre Ave (across from Chatham Center)

Labor and Religion Coalition of Western Pa and Just Harvest invite you to:
- Learn about local grassroots labor struggles around the region
- Hear Guest Speaker Steven Greenhouse, New York Times labor reporter, talk about
his award winning book, "The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker." Greenhouse will talk about stagnating wages, declining health and pension benefits, the loss of manufacturing jobs and the importance of working-class voters in this fall's elections.
- Discussion will follow
No charge
Friday evening- September 26 -Debate Party
Join Just Harvest, the Consumer Health Coalition and other community organizations
Watch the first presidential debate – on domestic issues.
Shadow Lounge, 5972 Baum Blvd, East Liberty
8 pm- gather and network 9-10:30pm – debate -No charge
Friday, October 17th, 2008
Join Just Harvest at Pittsburgh’s first Sleep-in for the Homeless beginning at 6:30 pm until the morning of Saturday at 6:30 am.
First floor and portico of the City County Building downtown. This is a homeless awareness fundraiser for Community Human Services. Similar to a charity walk, participants are asked to raise a minimum of $25 in support of Community Human Services. To learn more or to register, go to
Just Harvest's 20th Anuual Harvest Celebration Dinner
October 28, 2008
Featuring Guest Speaker, Robert Kuttner, Co-Editor of The American Prospect.
Seeds of Justice Awardee: Senator Jim Ferlo
Dinner and Silent Auction at the Omni William Penn Hotel.
For more information, see

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Letter to the Editor elicits response from Sen. Arlen Specter

Published on Tuesday, August 26 with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette's Letters to the Editor on the Web.

Tax credit priority
Kudos for your editorial rebuking the Steelers' effort to put the taxpayers on the hook for one-third of the $12 million entertainment complex price tag and the reminder that two of Pittsburgh's major sports franchises have already shared more than $350 million in taxpayer subsidies ("Stage North: The Ampitheater Needs No Public Subsidy," Aug. 19 editorial).

In these hard economic times, we need to prioritize struggling families over sports franchises. What we really need is for the U.S. Senate to pass an expanded child tax credit (S. 3335). Right now hard-working Pennsylvania families with earnings less than $12,050 don't qualify for the
tax credit.

Already this year Sen. Arlen Specter has passed up four chances to help those earning between $8,500 and $12,050 get more from the credit so that parents engaged in back-breaking but noble work in nursing homes, child-care centers, hotels and agricultural fields might have a little extra cash to lighten the load.

In September, the Senate should pass the expanded child tax credit so that more than 91,000 Pennsylvania children would become eligible for the tax credit and another nearly 317,000 children would receive a larger credit. It's long past time for the U.S. Senate to step up to the
plate and go to bat for the children of the hard-working, struggling
low-income families.

Tax Credit Campaign Organizer
Just Harvest
South Side

A representative from Sen. Arlen Specter's office responded on Friday, September 05, 2008.

Specter and taxes
A recent letter by Kristie Weiland calls on Sen. Arlen Specter to support adjustments to the child tax credit that will enable more families to qualify who have little or no income tax liability ("Tax Credit Priority," Aug. 26 letters). Ms. Weiland should be pleased to know that Sen. Specter has been a supporter of efforts to reduce the tax liability of families with children, including legislation that doubled the amount of tax relief that families may qualify for under the child tax credit from $500 up to $1,000 per child.

In her comments on the senator's voting record, Ms. Weiland fails to mention that the specific provision she discusses is part of a much broader package that provides for the extension of expired and expiring tax provisions, including the research and development tax credit, alternative minimum tax relief and incentives for investment in alternative energy production. These provisions are broadly supported but have been held hostage by disagreements over revenue offsets and the length of extensions. The majority leader has chosen to skip the customary committee process and to instead draft a bill in a back room. Sen. Specter has stated his preference to see this package passed with the opportunity for input and amendments from the minority party, without using a mere extension of benefits we already enjoy as an excuse to raise taxes elsewhere, and with longer extensions so that the yearly tax extender fight can be avoided.

When the Senate returns this month, passage of a tax extenders package will be a top priority for Sen. Specter.

Press Sectretary
U.S. Senator Arlen Specter
Washington, D.C.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Funding for The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program

At the beginning of the month, Secretary Ed Schafer announced that there will be $49 million will be given to elementary schools for fresh fruits and vegetables. The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program will reach schools in all 50 states and also in the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Schafer stated that "Fresh produce for children at school gives them an early start on healthy eating habits that can stay with them after school, and throughout their lives." He also mentions with the increasing prevalence of obesity, this is a way to educate and help our children learn the importance of a healthy life.

Pennsylvania's total allocation is $1,322,607 which will go to the neediest schools where there is high proportion of free or reduced breakfasts or lunches. The children in the participating schools will receive these foods at no cost and will hopefully begin to add healthier choices into their daily routines.

To read more, go to!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?contentidonly=true&contentid=2008/08/0208.xml

Posted by: Amy Soergel, our Just Harvest Food Stamp Barrier Research Intern

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Grassroots recipe #6: One chicken, three meals

What could be more economical than using one chicken for three meals? Just Harvest AA Heather Seiders contributed this trio of recipes. Most of the ingredients are used in two or more of these recipes, making it the perfect week meal plan for a budget. Chicken prices go up and down regularly, so be sure to check the prices to make sure they're low.
1 chicken (about 3 lbs.)

1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 of a yellow onion, cut in 1/2
1 lemon, quartered
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, or oregano) (OPTIONAL) * no need to chop *
2tbs. butter and 1 tsp. olive oil
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove neck and gizzard from chicken, and rinse inside and out with cool water. Pat dry with paper towels. Transfer to roasting pan. Where the cavity opens, loosen the skin from the breast and put one tbs. of butter under the skin of each side. Brush chicken with olive oil and rub with salt & pepper (inside and out). Stuff the chopped lemon, onion, garlic and herbs into the cavity. Tie legs with kitchen string & bake for at least 15 mins. per pound of meat (At least 45 mins.) After removing chicken from the oven, let it sit for about 15 mins. so the juices go back into the meat. Then remove the veggies and lemon and cut & serve.
* As the chicken cooks, you want to baste it with pan drippings (or more olive oil) about every 15 mins., adding more salt & pepper if needed *
Leftover chicken (no skin)
Mayonnaise to taste
1 or 2 stalks of celery
1 of 2 carrots
Salt & pepper to taste
your favorite hot sauce
palmful of bleu cheese crumbles (optional)
Bread or crackers
First, chop up the leftover chicken, celery and carrots. Then, add mayonnaise until mixture becomes a creamy consistency. Add a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce & add salt & pepper to taste. Serve on sliced, toasted bread with lettuce & tomato or on crackers for a snack.
1tsp. olive oil
carrots (roughly chopped)
celery (roughly chopped)
onion, garlic, lemon (optional) and herbs (reserved from roasting)
leftover chicken carcass
Add olive oil to large pot, and heat oil on medium heat. Add onion, garlic, celery and carrots and cook for about 5-7 mins. Place the chicken in the large pot (bones, skin & meat left on the bones), and cover with water (about 6-8 cups.) Add reserved herbs & lemon juice from roasted lemons. Bring to boil, and cook for about 3-4 hours salting to taste as needed. When it's done, strain out the whole fresh herbs, add reserved chicken pieces, and let cool. Put in pint or quart containers and refrigerate or freeze.
* After it is cooled down, there will be a lining of fat congealed on the top. Just skim it off and throw away. *
For a quick chicken soup: just add your favorite cooked noodle or pasta and salt & pepper to taste.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Crossing the Poverty Line

Crossing the Poverty Line: A Poverty Simulation was a huge success with over 75 attendees, including volunteers, staff from The Department of Public Welfare, other social service organizations, local and state elected officials. Many thanks to Rick Claypool, our AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer and countless others who made this event possible.

In Pittsburgh alone, there are more than 61,000 people and more than 148,000 people in Allegheny County living in poverty, making it more important than ever to not only educate our community but to help everyone come together to gain a better understanding of the daily struggles that people have to deal with.

For more details about the event, click here to read the front-page coverage from the Pittsburgh Courier.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Obama on food policy, plus chili recipe

In this article, writer and chef Ari LeVaux interviewed Democratic candidate Barack Obama on food policy issues for The North Coast Journal (Clinton and McCain have not yet responded to LeVaux's interview requests). And his chili recipe sounds passable (non-vegetarian, but still likely to be inferior to Nic's recipe below).

Highlights include:
As president, I would implement USDA policies that promote local and regional food systems, including assisting states to develop programs aimed at community supported farms. I also support a national farm-to-school program and am pleased that the Farm Bill provides more than $1 billion to expand healthy snacks in our schools.
As president, I would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to strictly monitor and regulate pollution from large factory farms, with tough fines for those that violate environmental standards. I also support efforts to provide more meaningful local control over these factory farms.

A letter to the editor

Published on Thursday, May 29 with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Letters to the Editor on the Web. You can find the letter we're responding to right here.

Everyone deserves food
I was appalled by the ignorance of the May 22 Web letter "Government Spending I Don't Like." As an AmeriCorps•VISTA member, I am proudly serving our country by fighting poverty with Just Harvest, a local anti-hunger organization. During my service, I have helped dozens of low-income families apply for food stamps. Public benefits help low-income workers and people who have lost their jobs get by without falling deeper into debt and destitution. It is an insult to portray them as "drug addicts" who "make their living sitting on the couch."

No matter what their situation, everyone deserves enough food -- it's right there in Article 25 of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If fighting wars seems more important than feeding our neighbors, our priorities are seriously mixed up. Let's hope our legislators make decisions based on their belief in human dignity, not greed.

AmeriCorps•VISTA Member
Just Harvest
South Side

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Grassroots recipe #5

Just in case you were concerned by the exclusion of meat from the recipes so far, Nic Romano offers a taste of the southern cuisine he picked up in the Navy years ago:

"While my last contribution was vegan friendly, and I don't want anyone to get the false impression that I endorse that kind of self-imposed culinary lunacy," said Nic. "You don't get to be 'Fat Nic' by eating exclusively off the produce aisle. Without further Adieu, here is my personal variation of Jambalaya!

"Don't worry, I may be a fat white dude from Maryland, but I learned how to make this by watching New Orleans native Eldridge 'Treetop' Coleman do magic. He never would reveal his secrets. I may never come close to matching his Jambalaya skills, but he would eat my Jambalaya -- which is more than I can say for the other white dudes who worked in the bowels of that ship so long ago."

(tends to be spicy)

1/2 lb Andouille sausage. Can't get andouille? Then get some smoked Polish sausage. It's not the same, but it will work. Just slice it.
1/2 lb chicken meat, diced. I like to use boneless thigh meat, as it's cheap.
Shrimp, Crab Meat (if you want to)
1 medium onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup diced celery
1 medium bell pepper, also diced
1-2 hot peppers (cayenne if you can find them, but jalapenos work too. Treetop would probably hit me for that)
2 bay leaves
Fresh thyme
Fresh Rosemary
1 14oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
Ground Red Pepper
Old Bay (but since you live in Pittsburgh you will have to settle for whatever passes for "cajun seasoning" at Giant Eagle)
12oz Bottle of IPA (any beer would work, but I find that the hoppy ones tend to work well with the spicy food)

In a heavy pot, brown the sausage. Add the chicken, and cook all the way. Add the onion, garlic, celery, & diced peppers. Cook with the meat (you may need to add a little olive oil to help things along). When the veggies have browned, add the thyme, rosemary, and a sprinkling of old bay. Stir around a bit to get the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. When that is mixed around a bit, open the IPA, and take a good long sip. Deglaze the pan with the rest. Bring to a simmer, and add the tomatoes. Bring that to a simmer, and add the chicken stock. Bring this to a simmer, and continue to season. When you got it where you like it, drop in the bay leaves and let simmer uncovered for about 30-40 minutes, stirring to keep from burning. If you desire, and at the last possible moment add the seafood, and cook through.

In a separate pot, cook about 2 cups of rice. When the rice is finished, add to the other ingredients. Season to taste. It's good now, and will be better in the morning.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thoughts on the Economic Stimulus Tax Rebate

By Ken Regal, Co-Director of Just Harvest

Many of us have just received or will soon be receiving a “tax rebate” check from the federal government as a part of the Economic Stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed by President Bush earlier this year.

My question is why do we so readily accept the idea that this money is a "tax rebate" or a "tax refund"? When the government decides to pass out checks to poor people who fill out vast paperwork, jump through incredible numbers of bureaucratic hoops, and put up with all sorts of indignities and verification procedures, we call it "welfare." Right-wing politicians score political points deriding those who are allegedly getting a free ride on the backs of "hard-working Americans."

But when the same government decides to pass out checks to just about everybody except those at both extreme ends of the income distribution curve, printing the checks just as fast as they can, and requiring no more paperwork than the tax returns we file anyway, then it's "a tax rebate" or (even worse), the "Bush tax rebate." Let's call it what is really is: welfare-for-just-about-everybody. Then when we're standing behind somebody affluent in line at the grocery store who is buying junk food with cash, we can sneer at them and think "Hey, how dare you! That's my tax money you're wasting on soda and potato chips!"

Now, some have argued that the “tax rebate” is different because it reflects a return of what a taxpayer has already earned. But let’s consider what it means to “earn” a check from Uncle Sam:

Under federal welfare rules, essentially everyone who gets cash assistance from TANF must be caring for dependent children and, with exceptions that vary from state to state, most must be working or in a state-approved "work activity" for a specific number of hours per week.

In contrast, think about the rules of the current economic stimulus rebate: A person who sits on his patio drinking gin and tonic all day and who receives $75,000 in income from interest, dividends, or capital gains will get a $600 "rebate." But the guy he pays $50 every week in the summer and fall to mow his lawn makes less than the required $3,000 to qualify and gets no rebate.

My question remains: among Ms. TANF mom, Mr. Lawn Mower, and Mr. Gin-and-Tonic, who's on "welfare" and who is "earning" what they receive?

So, whether you’ve earned your recent “welfare-for-just-about-everybody” check or not, consider donating part or all of it to Just Harvest and help us keep up the fight against hunger, poverty, and economic injustice.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Grassroots recipe #4

Young psychologist Christine Cinquino-Larson offered this simple Italian meal:

Vienna Cinquino's Pasta and Peas


1 can of tomatoes (Italian Style-l lb 12 oz. approx.)
about 1 oz. olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 green bell pepper (or 1/2 if prefer)
Small can of peas(15 oz. approx.--use less if prefer)
1/4 to 1/2 lb of elbow macaroni

Peel garlic cloves; saute until golden in olive oil. Discard garlic.* Blend tomatoes or put through a sieve. Mix into oil. Add salt, black pepper, and parsley to taste. Then add green peppers. Simmer about 30-45 minutes. Cook elbows about 8-10 minutes, drain, leaving a little water from cooked elbows to mix (as needed) when you add can of peas (at end, allowing 5 minutes for heating throughout). ENJOY!

*I asked Dr. C-L two or three times whether she was sure she really meant you're supposed to discard the garlic. She assured me that that's what the original (i.e. traditional) recipe indicates, though garlic fanatics such as I are free to keep it in.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Humanity and homelessness

As a culture, Americans tend to expect people, like machines, to function. According to this hidden logic, we find purpose through our function, and by working we become valuable to the rest of society. This simple idea may help a parent instill a work ethic into her children, or it might help a teacher explain to his students the value of working toward goals.

Unfortunately, this logic also turns people into appliances, and useless appliances are worthless. Imagine how much unnecessary kitchen machinery is discarded annually. A quick jaunt through any flea market will give you a glimpse of the few things vendors believe to be salvageable, but the vast majority of such "labor-saving devices" find their way into landfills.

The same logic can make "unproductive" people seem useless and worthless. But people aren't appliances; they're members of our families and communities. One shouldn't need to be reminded of human beings' intrinsic worth. But the National Coalition for the Homeless' recent report on violence and victimization makes clear this reminder is necessary.

Homeless men and women continue to be targets of violence because "productive" people have internalized this idea that people who aren't (or don't appear to be) working lack value.

Consider this incident from last year:

York City, Pennsylvania
Homeless Man Attacked By a Group of Teens
August 8: At around 12:00 pm, David Wright, a 38-year-old homeless man, was
fishing near Codorus Creek when he was brutally attacked by three to five
boys. Wright reports the teens punched, kicked, and scratched him.
He was taken to the hospital and was treated for contusions and may have a
broken hand.

In the U.S., the number of attacks like this has risen by 13 percent in the last year, with more than half of the attacks having been committed by teenagers.

Clearly, we need a reminder about peoples' intrinsic worth -- especially as the housing crisis (instigated by many hard-working scam artists) threatens to increase the number of homeless people living on the streets. In the press release for the report, David Pirtle, a formerly homeless victim of violence and NCH Board member, calls for a solution: "If the federal government adequately funds permanent affordable housing, fewer people will be on the street, and fewer men and women will be attacked."

Friday, May 9, 2008

Grassroots recipe #3: azifa

Carnegie resident Matt McGrath shared this recipe for Azifa, an Ethiopian cold lentil dish that he recommends in a pita, as a salsa alternative, or on its own. “When you make it yourself [instead of going to a restaurant], it’s about $10 cheaper. I'm addicted to it now,” said McGrath (a $1.25 bag of lentils is about 9 cups dry).


5 cups brown lentils
1/3 cup red onion
3/4 cup green pepper
2/3 cup baby spinach
1 lg. jalapeno chili pepper
3 tsp ginger
1/3 cup lime juice
some salt & pepper


1. Prepare the lentils. A good combination is 7.5 cups of water for 5 cups of lentils. Boil the water, then add the lentils, turn down flame to low, and cook, covered, until lentils are soft but not mushy. It’s a 2 to 3 ratio (2 cups of water for every 3 cups of lentils).

2. Finely chop up the red onion, parsley, baby spinach and jalapeno chili pepper. Place vegetables into bowl with the lentils. (Also "finely chopped" can't be stressed enough. Really you need to dice everything as much as possible. Especially the spinach.)

3. Make the dressing: combine the ginger and lime juice. Alternate azifa recipes add mustard for taste, or oil for thickness.

4. Stir the dressing into the lentil/vegetable bowl until the mix is even

5. Cover the mixture and chill for at least 7 hours.

Six servings - approximately 1 cup per serving

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Urban farms in the Steel City

While some rural Pennsylvanians are weathering the rise in food prices by buying cheap, expired food from Amish shops, Pittsburghers are likelier to enjoy a more sustainable bounty from urban farms. According to this Post-Gazette story, urban farm sites now include the North Side, Lemington, Garfield, and the Hill District. This is good news for supporters of food localism, not to mention anyone concerned about the accessibility of fresh fruits and vegetables to City neighborhoods.

Speaking of fresh fruits and vegetables, Pittsburgh's farmer's markets return to their usual spots in East Liberty, South Side, Bloomfield, and everywhere else you love to find them beginning Monday, May 12. You can find the farmer's market nearest you on the Pittsburgh Citiparks Web site.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Pity leads to charity; dignity, to entitlement

How hard have rising food prices and economic recession hit Pittsburgh? A recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article compares numbers of people served by one food pantry in South Hills in February 2007 -- 276 -- to February 2008 -- 425, an increase of 64 percent. The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank distributes food to this and over 350 other pantries and agencies in 11 counties; their director estimates one in three Pittsburgh residents meet the service's income guidelines (making less than 150 percent of the poverty level).

The article does a good job of painting a picture of the need. But what about attitudes expressed toward the poor? Here's how the piece begins:

If as you grocery-shop this month, you see Boy Scouts standing at the doors of the supermarket soliciting donations to the Scouting for Food drive, don't think of the food going to some anonymous "poor" person.

Instead, picture it going to your neighbor or to the family of your child's classmate. That is where it will likely go, according to food bank directors in the South Hills who said that the number of clients they are serving has spiked in recent months.

Layoffs, the mortgage crisis and the shaky economy have pushed more people into food pantry lines, and among the new clients are people whom what once had been the solid middle class -- those who, in the past, might have been more likely to donate than to use a food bank. (emphasis added)

Now hold on a minute. Sure, it makes sense to remind potential donors that the food they give is likely to benefit their neighbors and people like themselves (assuming most newspaper readers identify as "solid middle class," whatever that means). But it is unacceptable to imply that an "anonymous 'poor' person" is somehow less deserving than someone who recently fell from this so-called "solid middle class."

This is a subtle attempt to persuade readers to consider giving to a charity -- and it reveals much about what the newspaper assumes about readers, not to mention the very notion of charitable giving in America. Conventional thought tells us only those we pity deserve charity. A struggling person who demands food might offend "solid middle class" sensibilities. Likewise, a struggling person in the midst of drug addiction or might elicit little sympathy. An able-bodied individual unable to find a job? The scarcity of jobs is no secret -- yet our solution for this person is simply to demand again that they "get a job."

Unfortunately, the Post-Gazette article perpetuates this categorization of poor people into categories of "deserving" and "undeserving." Its persuasive power comes from the reminder that our donation is likely to benefit the "deserving" poor.

Bravo for the Food Bank and the excellent work they do. And bravo to the reporter and the Post-Gazette, as the local effects of poverty seldom attract media attention. But as for rhetoric that discourages us from acknowledging the common dignity of all human beings -- and that encourages us to think that only a familiar, well-behaved few truly deserve "charity?" Such rhetoric is poison. It's the kind of rhetoric that has and continues to divide struggling people across the globe who would do well to recognize their common plight and work together to address it.

Remember, this is one third of the population of Pittsburgh, or 111,521 people we're talking about.

In response, we who seek to end to poverty need to embrace a rhetoric of human dignity and entitlement. Say it with me now: "Everyone deserves enough food." Otherwise, our constant defensive stance will force us to focus on battling for what little government benefits remain, and our dream of ending poverty will remain just that -- a dream.

-Rick Claypool

Monday, May 5, 2008

Grassroots recipe #2: Fat Nic's Vegan Friendly Beans

From Nic Romano, a social worker friend and guitar hero fan from Baltimore:

Fat Nic's Vegan Friendly Beans & (rice, cornbread, whatever...)

Here's a good cheap recipe that always serves me well. It's cheap, simple, and very adaptable to anyone's tastes. Fresh herbs and veggies really make it good, but a little goes a long way. The following is how I like to do it.

2lbs of dry beans (black beans, red beans, pinto beans, jumping beans, whatever you like, it doesn't matter)
1 medium sized onion- strong, diced
2 bell peppers, also diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 lb sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup diced celery
2 finely diced jalepeno peppers.
Fresh basil, minced fresh thyme
Salt & pepper
anything else you think might be good
Lots of olive oil
A big pot

First, soak your beans. My room mate once tried to make chili with dry beans, and threw them into the crock pot straight out of the bag. Some of us just have to learn the hard way. Soak them overnight in cool water, but generally 4-6 hours should do the trick.

The trick to making this 100% veggie style is to make a flavorful vegetable broth first. To do this put about 2 tbsp. olive oil in the bottom of a large stock pot. Add the diced/minced garlic, celery & onion. swish it around so the veggies get a nice even coating of oil. Turn the heat on low, and sprinkle some salt on top of the veggies. Stir them around a little bit so they heat evenly. Put the lid on the pot, and play a song or two on guitar hero. check your veggies. When they are starting to get transluscent, turn the heat off, and add a few more tbsp. of olive oil.

Now add the peppers, mushrooms, and fresh herbs. Crank up the heat, and salt the veggies some more. Stir them around a bit, you may need to add some more olive oil, 'cuz the shrooms will soak up alot of it (for everyone who thinks adding salt is bad, the point of this is to draw out any moisture in the veggies when they cook down, so the flavors will concentrate).

Cut the heat down a little bit, and go play some more guitar hero. Seriously, this game rules. Check on the veggies, stirring them between songs. When the shrooms have shrunk, and the peppers are starting to get soft, cut back the heat and add about 2 cups of water (at this point, sometimes I put a little bit of miso or some kumbo seaweed into the pot).

Put the heat on low, season it up to your tastes, and let it cook down a little, about 20 minutes or so. By this point you've probably gotten yourself pretty addicted to guitar hero.

After 20 minutes, turn the heat off, and stir the mixture around. It should resemble a deliciously fragrant mushy goo. Season to taste.

Drain your soaking beans, and dump them in the pot. Don't rinse them off. Thoroughly mix the beans into the fragrant goo. Add about 2-4 cups of water. Put the heat on low, stir, put the lid on, and walk away. By now you probably want to finish guitar hero career mode anyway. The beans will take about 2-3 hours to cook all the way.

It is a good idea to check on the pot and give it a good stir every now and then. When the beans are tender, take the lid off, crank up the stove, and let it boil for a good 10-15 minutes. This will take care of any excess moisture. Now your beans are done, and you can eat them over top of rice or whatever you like your beans on.

Should feed a small army.

Friday, May 2, 2008

food crisis and free markets

Scary. Transnational corporate agribusiness has managed to create a global food crisis. Readers of Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine will be unsurprised at how Cargill, Monsanto, etc. are profiting from the crisis (not unlike how oil companies are reaping windfall profits) -- thus offering little financial incentive to stave of the "social uprisings" that rightly make the World Bank and WTO anxious. NGO Food First offers prescient analysis of the situation by explaining how market deregulation links the causes mainstream media outlets mention (i.e. biofuels and rising meat demand in developing nations). The UN is looking for ways to involve these transnational stakeholders in solutions. Indian activist Vandana Shiva anticipates the likely reluctance of governments to intervene in problems that free market policies create and points to sustainable solutions:

There is a very short term solution – give up the industrial agriculture using fossil fuels, high cost imports. Give up the forced linking with an international commodity market. Allow farmers to grow and give them a just price. We can solve the problem tomorrow. I work with 400,000 farmers in India growing organic food. We have doubled yields and doubled output on farms. Nobody is dying of starvation in the villages where there is organic farming. [...]

The Third World does not need charity; the Third World needs food sovereignty. It needs freedom to produce it own food. Let's just recognise the ecological endowments – it is Africa and Asia that have the best soils, the best sun, the best biodiversity. [...] I'd like to just mention: free trade is not free. Every one of the problems we have … have been triggered by government policy. Globalisation is government policy. Trade liberalisation is government policy. Biofuels is government policy. [...] If the governments have caused the problem, they cannot now throw up their hands and say that they cannot intervene. They have created the price rise, they need to intervene in creating a fair market for famers and ensure the rights of all.

Grassroots recipe #1

Child nutrition advocate DeShauna Ponton was kind enough to share this delicious summertime combination of fresh vegetables and pasta.

Zucchini Spaghetti

1 large zucchini (cut into 1/2-1 inch pieces)
2-3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 chopped green pepper
1 box angel hair pasta
1 can stewed or diced tomatoes, drained (save juice)
1 1/2 Tablespoons chopped garlic
3 plum tomatoes (or 1 regular tomato) skinned and diced
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Italian seasonings (basil, oregano, rosemary), to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large skillet, sautee onion, green pepper, and zucchini until slightly soft. Add the can of stewed tomatoes. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add tomato juice, garlic, Italian seasonings, salt, and pepper. Cook for another 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, boil the angel hair pasta according to directions on the box, until tender. Drain and set aside.

Plate your pasta. Spoon zucchini mixture over pasta with juice and top with fresh parmesan.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Grassroots cooking

With a national economic woes, a global food crisis pushing prices higher and higher, and apparently never-ending foot-dragging on the farm bill, it's not hard to feel anxious about the future of food in our communities. But daily meals continue bringing people together. Nothing like sharing meals and sharing recipes bridges generations and cultures -- and there's no better context than the dinner table for debating politics and problems.

In the article "The Extravagant Gourmets," Sara Dickerman writes about the problem with most food writing -- namely, that it's purpose is usually to convince readers to buy more (and more expensive) food. Dickerman's article ends with a call to arms: more food writers should emphasize the economics in home economics. She writes:

The time seems right for a mainstream voice (better yet, voices) to marry the pleasures of the table with the reality of a reduced budget, perhaps by using what we've learned from the food revolution. Michael Pollan has already made a big splash this year by recommending that people shy away from packaged products and eat less meat—two steps that are not only a grassroots vote for a new kind of food system but that will help save money [...] A new home economics could harness seasonal ingredients and real ethnic flavors; it could weave a lusty appreciation of food with a sober appreciation of the grocery dollar.
We've decided to take on Dickerman's challenge by posting what we're calling grassroots recipes. Look forward to cheap, tasty, everyday dishes that come straight from the kitchens of Just Harvest's family and friends. We may not nutritional experts like USDA (whose list of thrifty recipes includes nutritional info and the cost per serving), but our passion for good eating is surpassed only by our passion for advocating that everyone, regardless of income, is entitled to eat well.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Food Stamps make a Difference

Did you know that only about two thirds of Allegheny County residents who are eligible for food stamps actually receive them? Since August, Just Harvest has been working on our Food Stamps Make a Difference Campaign in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to increase participation in the National Food Stamp Program. With roughly 148,000 (about one in eight) people living in poverty, we know we’ve got plenty work cut out for us.

But don’t think that you’re not eligible if you have a job, you’re a student, or if you own your own home or car. For a single person under 65, the income guidelines are clear: if you have less than $2,000 in resources (i.e. checking and savings accounts) and make less than $1,107 a month before taxes, you can probably receive food stamps. More people in your family? Just add $377 to that $1,107 ($1,484 for two, $1,861 for three, and so on) to find out if you qualify. If you’re over 65 or disabled, the resource limit goes up to $3,000 and your eligibility is calculated based on your net income (starting at $851 per month after expenses for a single person, add $290 for each additional).

For a more detailed description of food stamp eligibility, check out the USDA's web site.

Think you might be eligible? Give Just Harvest’s Food Stamp Specialist, Eugenia Mosby, a call at (412) 431-8963. When you talk with her, she can do a screening with you to determine an estimate of how much you might be eligible for and complete an application for Food Stamps with you over the phone using the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare’s online COMPASS system. According to the Department’s guidelines, you should have a decision on your application within 30 days!

And if you run into trouble in the process, we can advocate on your behalf to make sure your caseworker makes a fair decision. Remember, food stamps are an entitlement! Plus, you receive them on a debit card – you don’t get actual paper “stamps” – so they’re easy and convenient to use at almost any grocery store!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

$600K and Counting!

Last week, refunds received by Just Harvest's clients hit the $600,000 mark! This is a tremendous benefit to Allegheny County's low- and moderate-income workers, and a terrific economic boost to the Pittsburgh area! Thanks again to all our hard-working tax preparers and volunteers. On Monday, Feb. 11, we'll finally be able to beging submitting returns with education credits (anyone who had to fill out a 1099E) to the IRS (they were delayed by Congress's late December decisions on the Alternative Minimum Tax). Visit Just Harvest's Give Paychecks a Boost page for more information.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Tax Time!

Just Harvest kicked off our sixth season of doing free tax preparation for low-income workers with a bang! Our office is bustling with a dozen tax preparers and numerous clients taking advantage of our services. Despite the aggressive “quick refund” ad campaigns by Jackson Hewitt, H&R Block, and other paid preparers, we’re meeting more new clients every day.

January 22 was the first day of 2008’s “Give Paychecks a Boost” campaign, and 16 of that day’s 20 clients were eligible for EITCs (Earned Income Tax Credits) totaling $32,066, with total refunds of over $63,000! This wouldn’t be possible without our hard-working schedulers, both of whom we hired through Welfare-to-Work programs, and our dedicated tax preparers and volunteers. Some of our preparers have been with us for all six years we’ve been doing free tax assistance; some are newly certified and just beginning to see the huge impact of our work. Our client intake and information specialist volunteers help manage the flow of people and data, and so far things are running smoothly (despite some headaches involving a particularly cranky copier machine).

In case you don’t know, the EITC is the United State’s largest anti-poverty program. It supplements workers’ incomes with tax refunds and enables millions of workers to keep their bills paid, cars repaired, and keep up with other expenses. Established in 1975, it has achieved wide bi-partisan support over the decades. If you want to find out more about the EITC, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities does a great job of breaking it down here:

In 2007, we served nearly 1,500 households, with refunds totaling more than $2.2 million! This year’s goal is $2.5 million. Here’s to another successful year of giving paychecks a boost! If your family received less than $35,000 in income in 2007 ($25,000 for a single person), you may be eligible for our free service. Talk to one of our schedulers by calling (412) 431-8964. Our hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mon-Fri, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat.