Philadelphia Food Bank Donations Suffer

PHILADELPHIA — Tougher economic times and a more difficult produce economy have reduced donations to a food bank that distributes to the hungry in the Delaware River Valley.

Philabundance, which has distributed produce and other food to the region’s food banks from its operations across the street from the city’s old produce terminal since the late 1990s, has experienced a large drop in contributions.

Contributing companies are still donating produce, but the donors can’t contribute as much as they did in the past, said Bill Clark, Philabundance’s president and executive director.

As the economy has forced many inefficient produce companies to close and fewer companies are donating produce or contributing smaller volumes, the result has been fewer pounds of produce being sent to the operation and onto the needy’s tables.

Ideally situated close to the old produce market, Philabundance received not only the “culls” or “lesser quality” product, but many distributors would contribute extras or quality product that wasn’t selling or late shipments or oversupplies when product pricing fell too low.

However, the confusion surrounding the date of relocating the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market to its new operation on Essington Ave. caused vendors to tighten their purchases. Distributors only ordered for their needs and didn’t purchase excess product that could have otherwise have gone to Philabundance.

Now that the move is done, donated volume has increased slightly.

However, volumes remain low and are off as much as 20% from summer 2010, Clark said.

While fresh produce formerly constituted around 80% of the food Philabundance distributed to area food banks, that has dropped to around 50%, Clark said.

“Federal food stamp support has skyrocketed over the last three years,” he said. “The recession has hurt the working class who have too much money to qualify for food stamps. In the same way the really poor families have seen food stamp usage increase, we have seen the need to support more of the people that are at the bottom of the working class that can’t obtain food stamps. Their needs have skyrocketed even more.”

A gap caused by a delayed start of regionally grown produce and the ending of imported fruit supplies also reduced supplies.

Clark said the operation’s 2009 capital investment that saw it purchase an adjacent building and install a packing line has paid dividends.

The organization decided it had to make the move despite a tough economy to help fill the community’s hunger needs, he said.

Not only does the expansion provide Philabundance the ability to break the larger truckload volumes of produce it receives into smaller containers for easier food bank use, the addition also has helped it handle more long-term, less-perishable produce such as potatoes and carrots. The new line also allows it to glean more “seconds” from produce contributed by area farmers and helps it handle more food donated by grocery stores, Clark said.

“The building investment has been critical in giving us the flexibility to respond,” he said.

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