Joyce Rothermel, Following a Calling to Feed the Hungry

Story and photo by Debbi Casini Klein | Audio edited by Louis D’Aria

A study that was done in 1977 at the University of Pittsburgh on the instances of hunger in Allegheny County documented 48,000 people experiencing hunger — that is, going without food for a 24-hour period.

That is what gave Joyce Rothermel the impetus to attend a workshop in Harrisburg on food banking, a concept that was new but creating interest around the country.

Joyce Rothermel

Joyce Rothermel

According to Joyce, “Food banking is really a warehousing operation, on somewhat on a wholesale level, food is collected from a variety of sources , the food industry, and individual donations.”

Food products that come from the government warehouse, a central facility, then in turn, the food banks work with a network of organizations like soup kitchens.

Under Joyce’s direction, funds were raised, and the first Food Bank in Pittsburgh opened in 1980 above the Jubilee soup kitchen in the Soho district of the city. By 1981, 1 million pounds of food were donated, and currently 27 million pounds a year are distributed to more than 120,000 individuals in 11 counties in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Healthy food had also been a concern of Joyce’s, and over the years, the focus has shifted to better nutrition. Currently, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank does have a direct service program called Produce to People. People can go to a central location and get fruits and vegetables.

Since her retirement from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank three years ago, Joyce continues to be an advocate for peace, justice and hunger issues through many volunteer efforts.

“We’re told that’s how we’re going to be judged at the end of our lifetime, how did we relate and treat each other” Joyce said. “And these basic human needs are something that are solvable; we can do something about it, and because we can, we should, and it has been my calling.”