ABOVE PHOTO: Philabundance staff member volunteers adhering to social distancing guidelines( standing 6 feet apart) at their Hunger Relief Center in South Philadelphia during the COVID-19 crisis, March 19. (Photo courtesy of Philabundance)
There are 750,000 individuals in the Delaware Valley who face hunger on a regular basis, even in the best of times. Philabundance is committed to serving them and anyone in need.
By Amy V. Simmons
As the Delaware Valley’s largest food relief organization, Philabundance serves more than 90,000 people each week in nine counties located in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They rescue, purchase and accept donated food from restaurants, supermarkets and similar institutions, then distribute the food through their own programs and throughout a network of 350 partner agencies.
Organizations that provide meal and nutrition centered support services to those in need such as food pantries, meal preparation and delivery programs, elderly and seriously ill clients and many others are an essential component of modern society.
All rely heavily on generous donations and a core group of dedicated volunteers to help serve the clients who rely upon them. During times of crisis, these needs increase exponentially. Philabundance is working hard to not only help those in their network to continue providing services to their regular clients, but to meet the rising need resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic as well.
On March 17, Philabundance was named as an essential agency in the City, and will remain open throughout the emergency.
Monetary donations to Philabundance are best, as it helps them to purchase shelf stable items like peanut butter and canned goods in bulk at a reasonable price, Samantha Retamar, public relations associate for the organization, said. Each one dollar donation provides two meals.
Nonperishable food items are especially important during this particular crisis, due to the daily changing situation regarding state directives and quarantine orders.
Grocers Against Hunger is a Philabundance program that works closely with local supermarkets and food retailers when it comes to donations or special discounts on these items, Retamar said.
Philabundance also works in concert with Food Connect, an organization that collects fresh food donations from restaurants for distribution to organizations that serve those in need. Because proper food handling and safety is key, Food Connect accepts donations from licensed food vendors in order to ensure that those food donations are safe for recipient organizations, and adhere to strict guidelines, according to their website.
Retamar said that many of the organizations they work with — especially the smaller ones — desperately need additional assistance, especially when it comes to helping hands.
“We’ve seen an increase in demand for volunteers; many of our partner agencies are run by senior citizens that are at risk [during this pandemic],” she said.
Philabundance’s main volunteer hub, the Hunger Relief Center, located in South Philadelphia — where food is sorted, packed and prepared for distribution — is experiencing this shortfall as well, with staff stepping in to perform double duty.
“We’ve lost 250 volunteers over the past two weeks,” she said. They are currently seeking healthy individuals willing to adhere to CDC safety guidelines to sign up and help address this shortfall. Still, Retamar is not upset about regular volunteers stepping back from the physical work for the time being. Their health and piece of mind is what is most important.
Something else that all people can do — even from the comfort of their own homes — is to host a virtual food drive, she said. It can be conducted via the internet.
According to the website, by “shopping” in Philabundance’s virtual store as a team — which could include yourself, your friends, family, and coworkers — donors can collectively multiply the amount of food that a single donation would provide to those in need. The virtual food drives and online donation pages also help to save valuable resources, such as trucks, fuel and staff hours.
People can experience the same satisfaction of having helped out in person, Retamar said. Those who wish to help remotely can also share the Philabundance website and social media posts with their own networks.
The work that organizations like Philabundance and hundreds of other area nonprofits that serve the region is invaluable, a fact that is not going unnoticed in these trying times. The PHL COVID-19 Fund — a collaborative effort involving the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Foundation, the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey — has been created to help these organizations to continue to provide critical services in this time of increased need and uncertainty.
To donate, volunteer or learn about the programs and services that Philabundance provides, visit: www.philabundance.org. To donate to PHL COVID-19 Fund and learn more about the initiative, visit: www.phlcovid19fund.org/covid-19/ .