PSO Violinist’s Volunteer Work Recognized by Ford Foundation

by David Sogg

When Lorien Hart calls, you answer. Her no-nonsense, matter-of-fact voice tells you, “We’re having a 412 Food Rescue delivery in McKeesport. Can you help with the unloading?” Your answer is, “Of course. Where and what time?” Often, she will also ask you to bring your instrument so you can play a mini concert with a colleague or two at the delivery location.

Founded in 2015, 412 Food Rescue delivers to community centers and housing developments food that would otherwise go to waste. Within five years it was delivering over 3 million pounds of food annually. In 2016, Lorien conceived a collaboration between the organization and the PSO Musicians that recently led to her receiving national recognition.

A Pittsburgh Symphony violinist for the past 20 years, Lorien has inspired 100% of PSO musicians, as well as quite a few members of the PSO board, staff, and donor communities, to participate in 412 Food Rescue deliveries. They unload donated food from “Big Green” (a large truck sponsored by former Pirates great Andrew McCutchen) or “Little Green” (partially funded by the PSO Musicians). The musicians accounted for the delivery of 142,000 pounds in 2018 and a similar amount in 2019. During each delivery, musicians play a brief concert for residents.

For her tremendous work, Lorien won the 2021 Ford Musician Award for Excellence in Community Service this past June. The League of American Orchestras selects five musicians nationally each year for this award sponsored by the Ford Motor Company Fund.

The Award dates back to 2016, when the PSO’s Penny Brill won for her work on music and wellness. Only two other orchestras have won more than once. A monetary award is split equally between the recipient and the recipient’s orchestra, some of which will provide funding for future Musician-led initiatives as well as support for 412 Food Rescue.

Lorien first approached the organization because, as she puts it, “We PSO Musicians wanted to do more for our community. We started looking for something all musicians could be involved in. I reached out to some bigger food organizations, but for a variety of reasons, they couldn’t work.  I had seen the logo for 412 Food Rescue, and contacted them. They were a very new organization, and were small and innovative, open to anything. They were thrilled to partner with us.”

The PSO Musicians were determined that their community outreach projects be sustainable, “not just a once-or-twice sort of event,” remembers Lorien. “412 Food Rescue was perfect for that.” Moreover, “it gave us a way to reach the most people. We could go to them, deep in their community. These are often public housing projects that are in far-removed locations—often at the end of dead end streets, high on a hill, where there are no grocery stores and where few if any buses go.”

But why choose specifically a food organization? “At a basic level, food is the thing that connects us all,” Lorien says. “We all need it. It’s the thing that supports life and gives people a chance to thrive in other areas of their lives.”

Does she see a relation between music and food? “For me, music elevates the process of giving food to people in need.  There is no dignity in a hand out, no matter how well-intended: the addition of the music creates a new dynamic where people can feel uplifted instead of beaten down.

As the pandemic unfolded, Lorien made sure the partnership with 412 Food Rescue continued. “When we could no longer do group deliveries and play concerts, we were able to get the housing authorities to distribute a variety of musical videos produced by PSO Musicians, bringing music to residents we had been serving. This included some of our Sunday Night Live concerts and, with their permission, some of the Bright Spots videos that the PSI produced.”

In addition, Lorien stepped up her individual food rescue activity, commenting “My personal goal is to do 365 food rescues this year through the 412 Food Rescue app.” The app, available at the App Store or Google Play, enables anyone in the area to become a “Food Rescue Hero” by transporting smaller quantities of food that become available to a suitable recipient organization, using an Uber-like model. 

Winning the Ford Award for Excellence in Community Service is helping Lorien take her vision far beyond the borders of Allegheny County. Last month, when the Pittsburgh Symphony Musicians hosted the annual conference of the International Congress of Symphony and Opera Musicians, Lorien set up a food delivery event with PSO members alongside delegates from orchestras from throughout the country. “Our community outreach is well-known among our fellow orchestras,” Lorien said. “Representatives from many other orchestras were eager to learn about what we do here in Pittsburgh.”

May the good works continue and expand.

Click here to hear more from Lorien Hart about the partnership with 412 Food Rescue!