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Teaming Up Against Hunger

By BRIAN McCULLOUGH, Staff Writer
Chester County Daily Local News

Grocery stores in the Philadelphia area, including Chester County, are uniting to fight hunger in a program with Philabundance, the region’s largest food assistance agency.

Referred to as Grocers Against Hunger, the initiative connects participating grocers to agencies that provide food to those in need.

The effort saves grocers the cost of clearing out inventory and prevents unnecessary food waste from filling landfills while feeding neighbors who need it most, the organization said.

Within Chester County, four connections are being made through the program: the Walmart in Parkesburg is donating food to Cluster Outreach Center in Pottstown; the Acme in Westtown is donating to Gaudenzia in West Chester; the Target in Exton is donating to the West Chester Food Cupboard; and the Target in Uwchlan is donating to the Lord’s Pantry of Downingtown.

“It’s no secret that demand is up across the board,” said Bill Clark, president and executive director of Philabundance. “What’s maybe not as well known is there is a huge uptick on a percentage basis of need in Chester County.”

Traditionally, the people who have needed the help of food banks have resided in very rural or very urban areas.

The recession has changed that and has led to ever greater demand in suburban areas, even in wealthy communities like Chester County, Clark observed.

“Over the last four or five years, there has been a dramatic shift,” Clark noted. “The most explosive growth (in need) has been in the suburbs.”

In addition to increasing demand, supply has been harder to come by as grocers, under their own economic pressures, increasingly sell slightly damaged products to brokers. Items that used to be donated often are resold at bargain outlets, Clark said.

Additionally, while individual giving has held up during the recession, it has not been enough to make up for the dropoff in giving by recession-battered corporations.

“In the last two years, the number of families showing up for food has grown by 65 percent while the amount of food we received is up in the single digits,” Clark said.

Because of the Grocers Against Hunger program, started in 2009, Philabundance was able to collect 1,543,074 pounds of food from participating grocers. That is equivalent to more than 1.5 million meals, the organization said.

Each Grocers Against Hunger partner brings a different element to the overall program, creating a diverse group that has the ability to grow, Philabundance said. Partners include Acme, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Giant Food Stores, Target, Trader Joe’s and Bottom Dollar Food.

Chris Brand, pubic and community relations manager for Giant Food Stores, said the chain runs programs throughout the year to assist Philabundance.

“We certainly feel as a grocer, as someone who provides food to customers, that it is our responsibility to work with the regional food banks,” Brand said, pointing to Giant’s Bag Hunger and Bag of Thanks programs in addition to Grocers Against Hunger. “We try to be innovative in finding ways to work with the regional food banks.”

The same is true at Acme, the founding partner of Grocers Against Hunger,

which has 25 participating stores in the program.

“The reasons we participate are two-fold for Acme,” said Steve Sylven, who works in the East Whiteland-based company’s external communications operation. “It cuts down on waste, for sure, and gives us the opportunity to get it to the people who need it.”

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