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PA warehouse offers relief

The old JCPenney building in Bridgeville may look abandoned from across the street, but a closer look will show the opposite.

BY HEATHER MOYER | BRIDGEVILLE, Pa. | October 14, 2004


"We average 14 to 27 volunteers helping each day, and then other volunteers bring in food for all of us working here."

—Mary Bonchak


The old JCPenney building in Bridgeville may look abandoned from across the street, but a closer look will show the opposite.

After this borough of Pittsburgh suffered severe flooding due Tropical Storm Ivan's heavy rains, community members pulled together to secure the site as a distribution center for relief supplies. Later they called in Adventist Community Services (ACS) to help run the center.

"We've been running full speed since September 24," said Richard Geer, the ACS volunteer manager for the site.

Around the former department store are tables full of clothing, toys, food, bedding, and much more. The flood families can come in, grab a shopping cart, and then pick out what they need, said Geer. The distribution site has served several hundred people so far, he added, and some 8,000 to 10,000 items are handed out at the center daily.

The leasing company that lists the old department store is allowing its use for 45 days. As the recovery efforts in Bridgeville shift toward the long-term, Geer said they are focusing on local groups who can take on the distribution of needed items. In the meantime, ACS helps distribute what is needed now.

The center is not just for affected Bridgeville residents either. Many other sections of Pittsburgh experienced major flooding after Ivan as well, and Geer said they have seen those affected residents come through. "We're here to serve any of the flood folks that come in. We try to help meet everybody's needs."

Friday morning, the center was busy as ACS volunteers helped employees from a local hotel unload a van full of donated food. The hotel held a food drive earlier in the week. Carol, the hotel manager who declined to give her last name, said she called the ACS site early that morning and was told their food donation would be just in time. "They said we called at the perfect time because they needed food," she said with a laugh. Carol also offered Geer donated hotel blankets.

Geer and fellow ACS volunteer Mary Bonchak agreed that the hotel's generous donations were yet another sign of how supportive the region has been this far. "We've even had kids come in to donate lunchboxes, toys, and backpacks for the other kids affected," explained Bonchak. "Even some of the flood survivors themselves come in to volunteer."

While Geer and Bonchak are from different parts of the country, the rest of the volunteers at the center are from the area. "We average 14 to 27 volunteers helping each day, and then other volunteers bring in food for all of us working here," Bonchak said from her chair in the center's "office," which was the old JCPenney Styling Salon.

"And some of these folks work eight hour jobs and still come in here to volunteer," added Geer.

Over at the bedding table was one of the local volunteers. Kim Greenberg, from Moon, Pa., heard from her local church that the center needed volunteers. "I wanted to represent my church and support the community," she said, folding a sheet. Greenberg works two half-days each week at the center and said she loves working with all the other volunteers. She added that this is her first foray into disaster relief volunteering, but the positive experience motivates her to do more.

"I'd do it again. And then there's still so much more to be done here, the need is still very much here."


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