Updated: Jan 20, 2022
Article published by The Mon Volley Independent
Written by Jeff Stitt
Kelly Doyle started the “What’s Happening in White Oak and Surrounding Areas” Facebook group six years ago in an attempt to stay connected with her neighbors and share information about happenings around the area.
Now in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, Kelly is using the social media group as a platform to encourage residents of the McKeesport Area and East Allegheny school districts to help neighbors who are in need of food.
Kelly and her family say they started using Facebook to provide sustenance to those in need long before the virus ever made itself known, but as unemployment numbers continue to rise and the economy remains shut down as a result of the pandemic, the family is offering more assistance than ever.
“I was the (administrator) of that group (prior to the pandemic) and people would message me with questions about where they could get information or help about different things,” she said, adding that some people in the area would send her private messages informing her that their cupboards were nearly bare and they were in search of a food bank or church that could help.
Kelly said that over the years, she and her husband Mike would give people the information they needed, and when they could, would put together care packages of food and drop them off with families that were in need.
When the coronavirus pandemic started to impact the United States and government leaders started handing down social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home and business closure orders, Kelly started getting more than 20 requests per week from people asking for assistance getting something to eat.
She said the requests came from people “who either don’t have cars and couldn’t go wait in the long drive-through lines or are too sick and are unable to go to the store.”
She said people who utilize the SNAP program and have weakened immune systems or are elderly and are afraid to go to the store to use their SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) have also reached out.
“You can’t use them for online shopping,” Kelly said.
With the ramped-up requests, the Doyle family sprang into action to begin helping their neighbors in need more than ever.
And they weren’t alone.
When Kelly began sharing with neighbors and Facebook friends that area residents were facing hunger because of the pandemic and were unsure of what to do about it, they also began to pitch in by ordering groceries online from Giant Eagle and Aldi in McKeesport and North Versailles and having them delivered to the Doyle home in White Oak with notes attached asking them to give the food to someone who needs it.
What’s Happening White Oak group members began sending Kelly messages saying things like “Hey, I have extra canned goods if someone needs them.”
Kelly said feeding those who are hungry “has been a true community effort,” adding that organizations such as The Pittsburgh Dream Center have also donated fresh food items like chicken and eggs.
On Saturday, Bridge City Church in White Oak held a food drive to benefit the Doyles’ food drive, which has been dubbed “The McKeesport AGAPE Center” and “The MAC.”
Kelly said the name was chosen because “AGAPE means to love like God. An unselfish sacrificial love.”
Kelly said people like her neighbor and friend, Ciss Warmen, have been giving unselfishly by doing things like purchasing bread and pastries on a regular basis to donate to families in need. White Oak police officers have also been “showing love” by offering to deliver some of the meals to families in need.
During the pandemic, The MAC, which is currently run out of the Doyles’ home, has been feeding roughly 100 families a week through no-contact porch delivery.
“I have this tiny little Cape Cod house in the middle of White Oak that you would not believe that all of this is coming in and out of, but it is,” she said.
Kelly said she is truly moved by the generosity of her friends, Facebook acquaintances and neighbors, but admits she is never sure how many donations she will get, which means she is never really sure how many people will receive food the next day.
“Everybody is pitching in and it’s kind of like a miracle,” she said. “I never know where the donations are coming from. … I’m looking at my inbox and I see all the requests and I think ‘Will we have enough for this week?’ but somehow every week people give and every week we have enough.”
Kelly has gotten emotional a lot over the past few weeks.
Asked how she feels when someone donates food, Kelly said, “I cry my head off.”
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “The first time somebody sent an Aldi delivery to my porch, my legs were shaking. It was like the reaction you see on TV when someone wins a new house. I couldn’t believe it.”
Kelly said voluntarily closing the family business, Doyle Mails It, gave the family time to focus on the effort to feed their neighbors.
The business, located on Lincoln Way in White Oak, also serves as the borough’s post office. It reopened May 1 after being voluntarily closed since March 19.
“I was not forced to close,” Kelly said. “I have a son who has asthma very bad and I was concerned about if we were to get (the virus).
“There is a high instance of touching packages that go through the mail and we just weren’t sure and wanted to be cautious.
“My other concern was that a lot of our customer base is elderly and they want to come in every day and buy one stamp and talk, and I didn’t think it was safe for people. I just kept thinking ‘They’re going to get sick’ and I didn’t want that to happen.”
The Doyles decided to reopen the store after multiple weeks of weighing their options.
“I just felt in my soul that it was going to be OK and that it was fine,” Kelly said. “We have masks, we have put up a Plexiglass thing and we are just going to pray for the best.”
She said Doyle Mails It has been busy since it reopened.
Kelly wants Mon Valley residents who want to help feed hungry neighbors to know they can drop non-perishable food items off at Doyle Mails It.
“Ten percent of all profits that we make from Doyle Mails goes right back to purchasing food,” she added.
Kelly said the food program will continue to help neighbors for as long as supplies last.
“I have not had to turn anyone away so far,” she said.
Anyone who lives in the MASD communities of Dravosburg, McKeesport, South Versailles Township, Versailles or White Oak or the East Allegheny School District communities of North Versailles and East McKeesport that is in need of assistance can send a private message to the What’s Happening White Oak Facebook page or to the The MAC- THE McKeesport AGAPE CENTER Facebook page.