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Area Food Pantries Get Needed Boost from Online Food Retailer

News Source: Citizen's Call

Fresh-Direct-Donation-2-19-It seems like an unlikely relationship, but two opposite ends of the food distribution spectrum are connecting in a worthy cause. An online high-end retailer of fresh foods and groceries has initiated a relationship with Philabundance and its network of food pantries, a positive development for those in need across the Delaware Valley.

FreshDirect, a digital grocery store that has been serving the New York City area for a decade and recently vaulted into the Greater Philadelphia market, has teamed up with Philabundance, the Delaware Valley’s leading food distribution agent fighting hunger and nutritional deficits, to support their network of member food assistance programs.

FreshDirect celebrated its latest market expansion into Montgomery County begun in January with a $1,000 donation to three top rung food pantries here. The retailer began its partnership with Philabundance when it first opened in this region and has continued its contributions with each market milestone reached. FreshDirect marked their launch in Philadelphia in October with a $5,000 donation and celebrated their 1,000th customer there with a $1,000 contribution.

On Friday Cheltenham’s Berachach Church Food Cupboard on Ashbourne Road played host to FreshDirect Philadelphia General Manager Paul Madarieta, who presented oversized checks to Catholic Social Services in Norristown and Seeds of Hope Food Pantry in Dresher in addition to the church pantry. Berachach Director Jeanette Hood was delighted with the extra cash, but she’s one of many distributors who wish that the business of serving people in need was a little less robust. One thing that really makes her seethe is the media drumbeat about the economy picking up. “We’ve seen no indication that things are getting better,” she told Citizens’ Call, and her expanding roster of recipients tells the story.

Hood’s church-based operation is now serving an average of 180 families per week, up from 156 per week a year ago, a 15 percent increase, according to her records comparing the last quarter of 2012 with the same period a year earlier. In addition, Hood is noticing an uptick in recipients from Montgomery County, as opposed to from neighborhoods just over the Philadelphia line. And she especially worries about the elderly, who at times may have to make a choice between medicine and food. “For seniors who have to pay for all that medication, it’s kind of scary.”

“There is a misconception that food scarcity does not exist in Montgomery County. I am here to tell you that it does,” said Elizabeth Peteraf of Catholic Social Services (CSS), who received one of the checks. “For about the last ten years I have personally witnessed the effects of the economy and the high cost of fuel and housing in Montgomery County on struggling families,” she said in a statement. CSS, supports 600 families per month with food assistance.

Philabundance, with its 500 member agencies, including shelters, residential programs, social service agencies, emergency kitchens, food cupboards and neighborhood/church distribution programs, sends food to some 65,000 people per week. But its community partners have seen a 29 percent increase in need over the last year and a 98 percent increase over the past three years. According to the sprawling non-profit food provider, nearly 900,000 Delaware Valley residents are at risk of hunger and malnutrition, meaning at some points they do not know where their next meal is coming from.

Yet food donations are also down. Supermarkets and wholesalers are finding other markets for excess food and food processors have become more efficient, resulting in less waste and, therefore, less to donate. Unfavorable weather conditions such as drought also result in reduced contributions. Dry food donations, over all, are down. “Compared to this time a year ago, we are seeing more than 33% less in dry food donations,” said Lindsay Bues, a Philabundance spokesperson.

Making matters worse, the food stamp program, technically called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps millions nationwide, will be cut. Families of four will be subject to a cut of about $25 per month. But things are likely to get worse, according to an Inquirer report, as the U.S. Senate considers taking $4.5 million from the program over 10 years, while the House contemplates eliminating $16 billion over the same period. Given the anticipated cuts, “we expect to see more people coming to us and our partner food pantries for food assistance,” said Bues.

“At FreshDirect we are keenly aware that the face of hunger is changing, and through our partnership with Philabundance we know that more people are coming to them for support for the first time in their lives,” said Jason Ackerman, Co-founder and CEO of FreshDirect, in a press statement.

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