For the second year, the Bayer Fund has given the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania a $50,000 grant to support its Community Food Solutions initiative that works with local leaders and key stakeholders to create equitable access to healthy affordable food and help families across the region meet basic needs.

Organizations can begin applying on Feb. 1 for mini grants available in 2024 because of this United Way project that fights food insecurity in Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler, Fayette and Westmoreland counties. It will also again enable a major meal packing event that will provide more than 1,700 healthy meal boxes to families in the area.

Sally Ellwein, director of meeting basic needs at United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, called the Bayer Fund’s second donation “incredibly significant” to the work of the initiative, which officially launched in February 2023. A steering committee of local experts reviewed applications addressing food insecurity during two grant cycles, starting in June, and awarded 17 grants of up to $5,000 each. These included community gardens, hot communal meals, before- and after-school snacks for students, and refrigerators where community members can pick out free perishable goods, according to a news release. Grantees receive technical assistance and support from members of the steering committee, she said. That process will repeat this year.

“It’s been really incredible. We just received final reports from first seven projects,” Ellwein said. “They served over 1,600 people and gave out a couple thousand pounds of food.  I would consider it really successful.”

Many of the grants from last year are self-contained and ongoing, such as raised beds for farms and the needed refrigerators for food pantries, Ellwein said. All of last year’s grantees can reapply for funds in 2024.

Organizations interested in applying for the 2024 grants can contact for more information.

The Bayer Fund is the philanthropic arm of Bayer in the U.S. dedicated to strengthening the communities where Bayer customers and employees live and work by providing funding for food and nutrition, education, and health and wellness projects, according to the news release. In 2023, Bayer Fund awarded $12.1 million in grants to more than 2,300 charities and nonprofit organizations to help address essential needs in food and nutrition, STEM education and health and wellness. Since 2017, nonprofit organizations across the U.S. have received nearly $90 million from the Bayer Fund.

The need for the initiative and the meal kit event is driven by the knowledge that many areas in and around the region are food deserts, meaning there is limited or no convenient access to healthy and affordable food. Also, many working families do not earn enough to pay for basic needs, including food, despite sometimes working two or more jobs, according to the news release. According to United Way’s ALICE (asset limited, income constrained and employed) data set, 39% of people in United Way’s five-county service area do not earn enough to pay for daily living expenses such as housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and basic technology.

The items lined up and ready to be packed in last year’s meal kits for families. The United Way and Bayer Fund event took place in mid-May at Acrisure Stadium. (United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. photo)

Eat’n Park, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Buncher Foundation provided additional money for last year’s initiative, Ellwein said, for a total of $150,000. The United Way also earmarks money for it from contributions to its Impact Fund, which is designated to meet basic needs. Fundraising is ongoing for this year’s effort and the meal kit event, which needs up to 200 volunteers. “If we had more funding, we could support more community-led projects,” Ellwein said.

Those volunteers will pack meal kit boxes for families to create a weekend’s worth of meals. Ellwein said the boxes include pantry staples and come with recipe cards so recipients can put those ingredients together for breakfast, lunch and dinner for two days.  Recipients will also receive a Giant Eagle gift card so they can add to what is in there – fresh produce or a fresh protein – if an included recipe calls for that.

The date for the 2024 event has not yet been set. Last year’s meal kit giveaway took place in mid-May at Acrisure Stadium.

Organizations with representatives on the initiative’s steering committee are 412 Food Rescue, Casa San Jose, City of Pittsburgh Parks and Recreation, Chatham University, Eat Initiative, Eat N Park, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Indigenous Permaculture of Aborigine Americans Food Forestry and Cultural, Just Harvest, Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, and University of Pittsburgh Scholar CHEF. Ellwein said the organizations receive stipends for reviewing the grant applications, repaying them for that evaluative work.

The 2023 grantees and their projects are: Royally Fit/The Beaver County Foundation, Youth Nutrition Ambassador Training Program: a training youth ambassadors in health and nutrition education; West End POWER, Community Freight Farm: enhancement to waiting and produce distribution area to make it more accessible; Out of the End Incorporated, 1 Sound Urban Farm: build a high tunnel to extend growing season; North Side Partnership Project, Northside Partnership Project Food Pantry: purchase of commercial freezers and shelving to expand food pantry; Love Carrick, Monthly Community Dinner: offer a monthly community dinner providing a hot meal to anyone in the community; Garfield Community Farm, Food and Knowledge to the People: build educational programs, knowledge sharing workshops, and mobile market; Allegheny Intermediate Unit, Highlands Family Center Food Pantry: purchase freezer, refrigerator, shelving and food to meet increased demand; Braddock Redux, Braddock Community Free Fridge: promotion and marketing of free fridge, integrate community cooking classes; BTC Center Inc., BTCC Emergency Food Pantry Annex: implement an emergency food annex that can operate outside of regular pantry hours; Millvale Community Library, Millvale Free Fridge Support: purchase back-up fridge to store extra perishables and provide Serv-Safe food handling certification to 10 staff/volunteers; Mwanakuche Farm, Mwanakuche Farm Community Farm Maintenance: purchase tiller, insurance and garden planning for community garden; Mystic Mamas, Soil to Seed: expand existing garden space by building pergola and hoop house; Pittsburgh Struggling Student Association, Freeman Family Farm and Greenhouse Green Grocer: purchase appliances for Green Grocer kitchen to provide free meals and expand Food as Medicine program; Project Love Coalition, Share Blessings Food Distribution Program: produce distribution at Peace and Friendship Farm, increase outreach and awareness and purchase storage for harvested produce; Save a Life Today Pittsburgh, The Parent Place Community Resource Center: purchase food, help pay for utility costs for refrigerator and freezer and food pick up and deliveries; Triple Moon Alchemy, Triple Moon Alchemy Food Share: funding used to build raised garden beds for community garden in Homewood/Wilkinsburg; and Wink’s Crispy Cuts LLC, Cutting into Hunger: local barber shop provides before- and after-school snacks for community youth.

Beyond this initiative, Ellwein said the United Way regularly supports a number of organizations in the region that address food insecurity and other resources, including emergency food assistance, which are available to residents through its 211 number.

A specific example is Ride United Last Mile Delivery, a partnership with Door Dash, that provides that food delivery to households. It just finished its second full year and 2024 will be its third year, Ellwein said. Many organizations use this service to get emergency food to families that do not have access to transportation to reach food banks and pantries, Ellwein explained.

This year the United Way is looking into a similar partnership with United Way Worldwide and Lyft to address the transportation issue to accessing food. It’s in the works, Ellwein said, and the United Way hopes to start it in its new fiscal year.

Finally, the United Way continues to work with its agency partners on the issue as well as members of the Community Food Solutions initiative steering committee. “Lots of them have advocacy efforts to reach out to elected officials and many other projects on this issue,” she said.

Likewise, Bayer officials have set a goal of continuing to provide funds to meet basic food needs. “Through Bayer Fund’s giving, we’re enabling and strengthening organizations that are working to make real, sustainable impacts in their local communities across the United States,” Al Mitchell, president of Bayer Fund, said in the news release. “Programs like United Way’s Community Food Solutions bring providers together to innovate and collaborate, and we’re proud to play a role with helping even more people in our community have access to healthy, nutritious food.” 

Helen is a copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike. Contact her at

Helen Fallon

Helen is a copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike. Contact her at