Editorial: Philabundance deserves funds from Chester

Delco Daily Times

Philabundance wants to open shop in Chester. From the first mention of the organization’s intention, controversy erupted as some food pantries in the city felt they would be forgotten and lose food donations once the better known Philabundance came to town.

Questions also arose as to why the city would consider giving an outside group $100,000 of Community Development Block Grant funds to open a food center, when existing pantries had not received any of that funding.

George Matysik, Philabundance deputy director of policy and planning, took the blame for bad feelings that arose because people were taken off guard about his group’s proposal. His organization wanted to have the funding in place before announcing plans. That did not happen and misunderstanding arose.

The CDBG funding Philabundance requested is not for food. The city looks for certain conditions, such as improvement to infrastructure, to allocate CDBG funds and Philabundance fills those conditions. The block grant will be used to acquire the building needed to house the food center, the former home of the defunct Shop ‘N Bag. The building has been abandoned for 10 to 12 years and it will take some work and money to renovate.

And while Philabundance is hoping for block grant funding, state grants for food purchases, which go to Chester pantries, are not in its forecast.

Philabundance operates in the Greater Philadelphia region with a specific plan to rescue surplus food and distribute it to local organizations serving people in need. Working with Grocers Against Hunger, Philabundance picks up frozen food, not yet out of date, but close, and brings the needed protein-rich food in for distribution. Here is where Philabundance has an edge — the freezer space most local pantries lack.

Frozen food is the only item that would be available if Philabundance opens. Its trucks collect food directly from local restaurants, supermarkets, caterers, wholesalers and food manufacturers. In the Chester plan, frozen food, dairy products and fresh produce will be among the items sold at a low cost or available for free.

The food for sale will be cheaper for city shoppers than what is available now and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) funds will be accepted.

Chester City Council is expected to vote on a proposal to partially fund the food center as early as Wednesday. Matysik and Marla DelSordo, director of marketing and communication, said plans would continue without receiving city funds, but the money would speed the project.

In a time when food and money donated to food banks has dropped and the need for help has increased along with the unemployment rate, there is room for all those who want to help. Philabundance wants to create 20-25 full and part-time jobs, with the promise a real emphasis will be placed on Chester hires. And while Philabundance cannot pay the salaries larger, for profit markets do, it can provide the training workers need to make that next step.

Venders in Chester would be given the first opportunity to supply Philabundance’s needs and, if what they need is not available in Chester, its representatives promised to look for supplies from venders within Delaware County.

Eventually the group hopes to operate seven days a week, while only opening five days a week to start. And, even though they cannot offer the supplies of the long-wished-for supermarket, there will be more items available for residents then now exist within the city limits or in the neighboring towns of Trainer and Marcus Hook.

The group estimates it needs $4 million to complete the food center project and is not even halfway to the goal. But Matysik and DelSordo said Philabundance would proceed even without Chester’s help and would break ground at the planned site even before all necessary funds have been raised.

Philabundance may not be the only answer to the needs of the city and surrounding towns, but it is a great resource that deserves the funding from Chester to help complete its plans.

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