Chester approves grant for new Philabundance food center (With Video)
By JOHN KOPP
Delaware County Daily Times
CHESTER — City council unanimously voted Wednesday to help fund a proposed food center on the city’s West End.
Council voted 5-0 to allocate $100,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to help Philabundance acquire the building needed to establish the nonprofit organization’s food center at 3101 W. Ninth St. The project is expected to cost about $4 million, of which Philabundance still needs to raise more than half.
The first of its kind, the food center will serve as a hybrid of a food pantry and low-cost supermarket.
Tentative plans have the center open at least five days a week and providing 20-25 jobs, according to Philabundance representatives.
Philabundance Director of Marketing and Communications Marlo DelSordo thanked council for its support. In the last 48 hours, DelSordo said Philabundance had gained signatures from 426 residents acknowledging their support, too.
“Most importantly, we’re going to be continuing to have a dialogue with the community,” DelSordo said. “We want to make sure that we get everybody’s feedback so that we bring a community food center to Chester that truly benefits folks, but also feels like home to people and is a resource to the city of Chester.”
The meeting drew a steady stream of residents wishing to offer their support or opposition to the project, including several from Chester’s food pantries.
Pantry representatives argued that the city is funding a duplication of services instead of using its money to enhance the existing food pantries or to fund other city needs.
They voiced frustrations that an outside organization like Philabundance received funding while other organizations have worked the “trenches” for years and never asked for, nor received funding.
“I don’t have a problem with Philabundance,” said Bernice Warren of Chester Eastside Ministries. “The issue for me is we have ministries who have been struggling and need your support.”
“Chester needs its city council to really get to know its grassroots entities,” added the Rev. Jay Harrison of True Vine Missionary Full Gospel Baptist Church. “It’s not pleasing for me to come home and find out through the press that my council has no clue that I’ve been here for 40 years.”
Marina Barnett, an associate social work professor at Widener University offered her support of the project. Barnett said the food center will allow residents to gain a healthy diet, which cuts down on the probability someone will develop diabetes. She said the diabetes rate among Chester residents is twice as high as elsewhere in the region.
Barnett added that the low prices will help struggling families combat the rising cost of living.
“By supporting the Philabundance initiative you will be providing fresh foods and vegetables to hard-working individuals and seniors,” Barnett said before council voted. “I’m sure that you agree with me that residents should not have to make a choice between putting gas in their cars or putting food in their children’s stomachs.”
Before they voted, council responded to the concerns of the pantries and stated its support of local organizations.
“All of us on council did deliberate long and hard on this issue,” Democratic Councilwoman Portia West said. “We looked at both sides. We understand and are sensitive to the existing food pantries that are here in the city of Chester, but I feel that we could all address the needs for fresh food for our community.”
Having heard their funding needs, councilmen Shepard Garner, a Republican, and John Linder, a Democrat, each encouraged the pantries to apply for future funding.
“We welcome everybody who is a (nonprofit) and interested in receiving some type of funding to reach out and file an application so that you can be awarded some of those funds,” Garner said.
Republican Councilwoman Marrea Walker-Smith charged Philabundance to continue supporting the food pantries and to provide jobs to Chester residents.
“This is in no way in lieu of a market,” Republican Mayor Wendell N. Butler Jr. said. “We still will have a market in the city of Chester.”
U.S Rep. Bob Brady, D-1 of Philadelphia, and State Sen. Dominic F. Pileggi, R-9, of Chester, have backed the project. State Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland, D-159, of Chester, was initially skeptical, but after meeting with Philabundance officials came on board.
“I think it’s something that can work to the benefit of everybody,” Kirkland said by phone. “One of the things that caught my attention is that it could be open seven days a week and they’ve committed to providing jobs for Chester residents.”