In the summer of 2016, I was looking for a non-profit organization that the Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) could partner with on a regular basis. I sent out a number of emails to established local food pantries and one to a newer organization called 412 Food Rescue. At the time, I didn’t know much about what food rescue meant, but I had seen the logo of the organization around and it intrigued me. We got an immediate “yes, let’s do it!” from 412 Food Rescue, so I scheduled an afternoon of volunteering for a small group. We quickly learned that food rescue is the act of preventing perfectly good food from entering the waste stream. 412 Food Rescue takes it one step further by partnering with area non-profits who serve food-insecure populations.
Our first run as “food rescue heroes” took place 12 miles southeast of Pittsburgh in the town of McKeesport, the ghost of a once-thriving coal and steel town along the Monongahela River. We delivered rescued food to two family centers, a Section 8 housing development, and a senior center. At each stop, we offered people free tickets to come to hear the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Heinz Hall. We quickly realized that it wasn’t just the ticket prices that kept people from attending: it was lack of access to transportation, it was fear of not having the right thing to wear, it was difficulty in finding childcare—a myriad of obstacles that a free ticket alone couldn’t surmount. This was an “aha” moment for us. We had something else to offer these communities that other 412 Food Rescue volunteers couldn’t. We had the ability to bring live, world-class music.
I met with Jen England, the 412 Food Rescue Program Director for Food Recovery Operations, and we created the Body & Soul partnership. Each month, a group of PSO musicians would travel with the 412 Food Rescue truck for an afternoon and help to unload the truck while another group would play a pop-up concert for the residents and community members at each stop. It would be an afternoon of feeding both the bodies and souls of Pittsburgh-area communities in need.
After two years of monthly visits, the program has been so successful that we have recently expanded it to include 1–2 additional runs per month, reaching deeper into the northern and southern parts of the Pittsburgh region. We also recently started inviting PSO staff and board members to join us on our runs. It has been an amazing way to bridge the gap and get to know each other outside of Heinz Hall. In the 2017/18 season, we had 19 Body & Soul runs as well as an extra event where 40 members of the PSO family (musicians, staff, and family members) helped to transform an inner city lot into an urban community vegetable garden and orchard.
Our goal of 100% musician participation is well within reach, and we hope to achieve it by the end of the 2018/19 season. With each run, the pool of “count me in, anytime!” volunteers grows. It is amazing to bring this dual nourishment to our fellow Pittsburghers—young, old, and all ages in between—and to experience their reactions. We have had people dance, sing, cry, and even beatbox with us—each an indelible memory to remind us of the power of live music.
Note: The Author is a violinist in the Pittsburgh Symphony. More information about the 412 Food Rescue Body & Soul partnership is available on the Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Facebook page. To find out more about 412 Food Rescue, visit 412foodrescue.org.