Carnegie Mellon Food Drive reaches goal on final day

On the morning of Monday, Nov. 15, Carnegie Mellon’s Annual Food Drive was $21,500 short of its $100,000 goal. It was the last day of the drive. “We were hesitant about setting such a lofty goal,” said Food Drive Chair Carole Panno. But Panno, who is also the Associate Director of Gift Planning, embraced the challenge.

That evening, the Food Drive Committee sent an email to the Carnegie Mellon community headed: “Thanks to You — We’ve Done It Again.”

Staff Council sponsored the fundraiser, which has historically been one of Pittsburgh’s highest-grossing food drives. The funds totaled a record-breaking $109,000 this year and were donated to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank (GPCFB). The previous high was set last year at $86,500.

In the spirit of friendly rivalry, Staff Council designed the fundraiser as a competition between the 41 participating teams. Among the schools, SCS led the pack, raising $12,000, followed by Tepper ($9,300) and CFA ($5,300). At $15,500, the group representing Campus Design and Facility Development amassed the greatest amount of funds. CIA Buggy was the top student team.

In an interview with The Tartan, Panno explained that the “team strategy and competitive spirit we love at Carnegie Mellon drives up donations.” The concept was introduced last year when the pandemic forced the fundraiser to go virtual. With a new platform for Carnegie Mellon community members to contribute internationally, the competition was on.

The online fundraising campaign was supplemented by three drive-and-drop events. According to Panno, each doubled the previous date’s nonperishable donations (with the final day seeing donations four times greater than the first). The last event always brings in the most support, Panno said in the interview, because people tend to demonstrate more urgency for “anything that’s at the end.” Cumulatively, the food drive brought in 2,500 lbs of nonperishables, can openers, and reusable bags.

Since its inception in 1993, Carnegie Mellon’s Annual Food Drive has contributed a cumulative $214,500 and 77 tons of nonperishables to help fight hunger. GPCFB is the biggest food assistance program in southwestern Pennsylvania, providing over 45 million meals each year, according to their website.

Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning estimates 20 percent of the city's residents are food insecure. FeedPGH identified areas in the city with the highest rates of food insecurity as Healthy Food Priority Areas. In Council District 5, which includes Squirrel Hill, 51.6 percent of Black residents live in Priority Areas compared to 5.5 percent of their white neighbors. This is especially disproportionate because Black residents comprise less than one-tenth of the district’s population. The same disparity is seen throughout Pittsburgh: over 70 percent of Black people live in Priority Areas despite representing an estimated 23 percent of city residents.

Though there was a significant increase in student involvement this year, Panno observed that the majority of food drive contributions were made by faculty and staff. “That’s the one piece of the drive we haven’t grown enough,” she said, referring to low participation within the student body. She hopes to see increased enthusiasm among students in the coming years, both to benefit those in need and to solidify the community-building aspect of the event.