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The COMMUNITY FOOD CENTER: Philabundance’s Pilot Program Promotes Food Choice for People in Need

PHILADELPHIA – January, 15, 2010 – The West Kensington and Fairhill neighborhoods of Philadelphia are the launch site for Philabundance’s Community Food Center, a pilot program and choice food pantry that greatly extends traditional operating hours, while promoting dignity by offering people in need an array of food choices rather than a pre-packaged bag or box.

The Community Food Center (CFC) distributes about 20,000 pounds of perishable and non-perishable food weekly, including grocery items, fresh produce, bread, dairy and meats. The CFC is open four days a week, Wednesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.., and serves about 500 households per week.

The CFC opened its doors in the basement of the Lillian Marrero Library-Lehigh Branch at 601 W. Lehigh Ave., on Nov. 17, to an overwhelming response from the community. Clients of the CFC can visit once per week and fill up their baskets with any items they choose. Due to the great need in these neighborhoods, 1100 families have already registered and the CFC has reached its current capacity of households it is able to serve. They have established a waiting list and are referring those they can’t help to other agencies.

The program is part of the Philabundance Emergency Relief Initiative launched in May of 2009, to meet the growing demand for food. Philabundance, the Delaware Valley’s largest hunger relief organization, is piloting the Community Food Center in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Community Service (MOCS) and Saint Joseph’s University, whose funding support and counsel through the university’s Department of Food Marketing has helped get the program off the ground.

The Community Food Center is Philabundance’s fourth “direct service” program. Philabundance is gaining hands-on knowledge necessary to serve communities in need in the best possible manner. The goal is to develop the CFC into a model that can be replicated in other communities or copied by other agencies throughout the Delaware Valley

“We are excited to be partnering with the City and Saint Joseph’s University on what we hope will be the model for the next generation of food cupboards,” says Bill Clark, Philabundance’s president and executive director. “This choice food cupboard operates more like a grocery store with higher community visibility, more hours of operation and of course, a large degree of client choice in what food they receive.”

One of the biggest challenges faced by the current food cupboard system is that food relief resources are scattered and distributed unevenly within geographic areas with some neighborhoods getting more coverage than others. Other challenges include food cupboards lacking visibility in some areas, little or no coordination among food cupboards in a community to help ensure maximum public access to food, inadequate financial and staff/volunteer resources.

“Many current operating practices unwittingly can create barriers to needed access for people seeking food assistance, as they attempt to navigate an often confusing and unreliable system,” adds Clark.

“The Mayor’s Office of Community Service is committed to help improve access to food assistance resources in the city and is pleased to be partnering with Philabundance,” says Mary Mariner, interim executive director of MOCS. “This partnership exemplifies our goal to empower low-income Philadelphians by providing access to innovative programs like Community Food Center.”

“Partnerships are all about people and I don’t think you could find a more dedicated and mission driven group of people than you find at Philabundance,” says Marty Meloche, D.B.A., associate professor, Department of Food Marketing at Saint Joseph’s University. “Philabundance and Saint Joseph’s have a strong bond based on common goals and values. Saint Joseph’s mission includes providing a sense of social justice and caring in our students and our partnership with Philabundance has provided a significant tool for accomplishing this mission.”

The USDA report on Household Food Insecurity for 2008, showed that 49 million Americans struggle with getting enough food to eat which is an increase of 36 percent from the numbers only one year ago. The increase of 13 million new Americans facing food insecurity is greater than the entire current population of Pennsylvania.

Philabundance’s Emergency Relief Initiative is a major step to improving the community access to emergency food in the face of this increased need brought on by the recession. In addition to the Community Food Center, Philabundance has introduced a new community-wide Food Help Line, 800-319-Food (3663) and Emergency Food Boxes (EBox), while increasing the amount of food going into the community through expanded programs like the Fresh for All, produce distribution effort.

For information about Philabundance’s Community Food Center, call 215-229-2221or visit www.philabundance.org.

Philabundance is the region’s largest hunger relief organization fighting hunger and malnutrition in the Delaware Valley. Philabundance provides a full plate of services to close to 500 member agencies in 10 counties, who serve approximately 900,000 low income residents. Philabundance provides food to approximately 65,000 people per week, at an aggregate cost of less than 30 cents per meal. In 2008, Philabundance, distributed 17 million pounds of food in the Delaware Valley. For more information about Philabundance, call 215-339-0900 or visit www.philabundance.org.

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