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Editorial: A stepping stone for Chester’s ‘hungriest’

Delco Times
For more than 25 years, Philabundance has been equivalent with feeding the hungry in the Delaware Valley. About 900,000 people are fed through this program that taps the food industry, manufacturers, importers, farmers and the community for donations.

Delaware County residents have literally sown the soil to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for those in need through Philabundance’s Share the Harvest program. At Rose Tree Park in Upper Providence, community farmers have provided thousands of pounds of produce for the needy every summer since 2004.

Residents of Chester, located in what Philabundance officials have designated the “second hungriest” congressional district in the nation, have reaped the benefits of the program through its partnership with the Bernardine Center.

Established in 1986 by the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters near Ninth and Highland streets, the Bernardine Center is a member of the Greater Philadelphia Food Bank and a founding member of the Interfaith Coalition of Food Centers of Delaware County.

In addition to providing food and supplies for those in need, the sisters and their staff have tried for 24 years to break the cycle of dependence in the poverty-stricken city by sponsoring nutrition education and life skills workshops through their Super Cupboard Program. It has been emulated statewide.

Officials at Philabundance are now aiming to expand their services to Chester residents through a food center they have described as a hybrid. The first of its kind for the organization, the Philabundance Community Food Center Initiative Project is designed to be both a low-cost grocery store and traditional food pantry.

Once funded with $100,000 Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, it should be self-sustaining because of the items sold there, said Marlo DelSordo, Philabundance director of marketing and communications

Last Wednesday city council voted to revise the Chester Economic Development Authority Fiscal Year 2010 action plan that will allow for the acquisition and rehabilitation of a building at Ninth and Booth streets to serve as the site for the Philabundance initiative.

Interestingly enough, it is near the site of a former grocery store in the financially beleaguered city that has not had a full-service supermarket since August 2001.

While city council members unanimously approved the Philabundance initiative, which is now under environmental review and is set to be voted on again April 13, they realize the city still has a glaring gap in terms of accessibility to food.

“We want (our residents) to be able to obtain fresh fruit and vegetables and Philabundance can do that, but I did want to obtain the city’s support for a full-fledged supermarket,” said Democratic City Councilwoman Portia West.

State Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland, D-159, of Chester was more to the point in registering his concern over the opening of another food bank in Chester.

“I hope that we’re not becoming the social services capital of the world. We do have a number of food banks and with all that’s going on down on the waterfront, with all the revitalization, I would hope that we move in a direction that would empower people,” said Kirkland.

He expressed frustration with the Chester Economic Development Authority in not working more closely with him when he had potential access to $5 million in state funding that may have made a supermarket in the city a reality.

There is no doubt that the Philabundance initiative is a welcome and much-needed altruistic effort in one of the country’s poorest cities. In fact, it won’t be surprising in these hard economic times if residents of other Delaware County municipalities travel into Chester to patronize the low-cost Philabundance food center.

But Kirkland is correct in maintaining that if Chester is ever to regain its standing as a thriving city, it must have such basics as a supermarket. Many Chester residents don’t have the cars or the bus fare to reach grocery stores outside of the city, not to mention the ability to manage a grocery order on public transportation if they are elderly or disabled.

It is also time graduates of life skills programs such as those sponsored by the Bernardine Center have an environment in which they can practice those skills. A grocery store is the very least they should expect.

Hopefully the Philabundance Community Food Center Initiative Project will not be a permanent fixture, but another stepping stone to better times for the people of Chester.

Parting Thought

Merchants undoubtedly have been deterred from setting up shop in the city by Chester’s high crime rate. The year looked promising with eight weeks without a homicide until last Saturday when 30-year-old Edward Ware was gunned down in the 2700 block of West Fourth Street. Until witnesses cooperate with authorities in capturing culprits, crime will thrive in Chester and merchants will take their businesses elsewhere.

Find this article on the Delco Times.

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