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How Do I Get Help?

Nutritionist with woman client talking about meal plan and healthy products during a medical consultation in the office

As a community, we prioritize providing assistance for low income families. When resources are tight, local government and social services teams are set up to identify programs and services that are the best fit, guiding individuals and families to the help they need. From diapers and food to utility programs and housing solutions, households struggling to make ends meet or families in crisis can find a number of services to reduce stress and improve their quality of life.

However, getting that assistance can be incredibly challenging for families seeking help.

Determining Eligibility 

While there is assistance for low income families, there are usually some guidelines that determine access. It is helpful to make a call to a referral line and speak with a caseworker about pressing needs and available resources based on eligibility for support.

Local referral lines:
United Way: 2-1-1
JFCS Squirrel Hill Food Pantry: (412) 421-2708
ISAC Pittsburgh: isacpittsburgh.org

The checklist below describes documents and prompt questions that a case worker may ask in order to kick-start the process. 

(1) Tell Me About Your Family:

It’s important to know about the entire family. This includes the number of dependents, their ages, diagnosed disabilities, and health conditions. 

Helpful documents: identification for all dependents (driver’s license, photo ID card, passport or student ID, or birth certificate, crib card or discharge paperwork), immunization and health records.

(2) What is Your Citizenship Status?

Eligibility for some programs, especially those for immigrant populations, is guided by an individual’s current immigration status and their home country. 

Helpful documents: U.S. government-issued identification, documentation from home country if applicable.

(3) Tell Me About Your Living Situation.

Caseworkers will want to know about your home life to understand the challenges and health risks that face your family. Also, the services available may depend on your home address. For example, you may not know about a food pantry located in your neighborhood. Additionally, utility companies may offer a free or low-cost plan for internet or heating/electric services to families residing in your zip code. Finally, caseworkers may need to know about your hopes and plans over the next several months or years to help you lay a solid foundation to build toward those goals. 

Helpful documents: lease agreements, recent utility bills.

(4) What is Your Job Status and Income?

Some services are made available at different levels based on your income and how it relates to the federal poverty guidelines, which are updated annually. Caseworkers may also need to know about your job status to understand your ability to secure housing now and in the future. They may also ask about your relationship with your landlord, and any history of missing rent payments.

Sharing details about personal finances may seem intrusive, but it is often important to note unique or extenuating circumstances for caseworkers to find the best kind of help.  

Helpful documents: income sources for everyone living in the household (pay stubs, unemployment letter, child support, income tax return for self-employed), resume. 

Next steps:

From this initial conversation, caseworkers can quickly understand the urgency of your situation and guide you to a safe pathway. Finding help for your family is made simpler with a referral line. It just might be the first step toward landing life-changing assistance. 

About JFCS  Squirrel Hill Food Pantry

The JFCS Squirrel Hill Food Pantry has been a cornerstone of JFCS Pittsburgh since 1999. It offers nutritious, fresh food for neighbors in the 15217 zip code as well as kosher food for families who live in Southwest PA region. For more information, visit jfcspgh.org/pantry or call (412) 421-2708.