COVID-19 in Philly: Coronavirus crisis sparks increased demand for food pantries

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By Ayana Jones

PHILADELPHIA — Bebashi Transition to Hope’s emergency food cupboard has seen an uptick in visitors throughout the last two weeks. The nonprofit joins other food pantries facing an increased demand due to the coronavirus crisis.

“Never has the need for Bebashi been greater than it is right now,” said Gary Bell, who is the organization’s executive director.

To meet the demand, the organization has had to extend the hours of its food cupboard that offers non-perishables, meats, vegetables and daily products. The nonprofit serves upwards of 100 people a week and the number is “still rising,” Bell said.

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“We’ve started to get some folks who are now unemployed, whereas before it was pretty much the same folks,” Bell said.

“We were fortunate that we had stocked up. We were fortunate that we had an excess. We are not running out.”

The uptick in demand comes as a five-truckload, 120-pallet shipment of food resources intended for Philabundance has been diverted to the Share Food warehouse. Philabundance has temporarily closed the doors at its South Philadelphia and North Philadelphia locations following news that two staffers might have been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

Share typically serves 70,000 people per month, and nonprofit leaders expect to see higher numbers in the coming weeks.

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“We’ll absolutely see an increase in demand, but it’s a demand that we believe we will meet,” Share Food Program Executive Director George Maytsik said.

Share distributes food to approximately 500 food pantries throughout the Philadelphia region and serves 794 schools.

Last week, Share rescued food from 38 school freezers and many local restaurants that have closed their doors, redistributing those resources through regional pantries and other channels.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Convention Center and its partners at Aramark have donated 900 pounds of perishable food items to the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission and the Valley Youth House’s Achieving Independence Center for distribution to individuals and families in need.

“With so many individuals and families struggling during this difficult time, we wanted to make sure that this food was put to good use,” said Gregory J. Fox, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority.

“Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission and the Valley Youth House do great work in the local community and we know they will make sure this food gets to those who need it.”

Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.