Philadelphia-Area Food Banks, Pantries Feel COVID-19 Strain

Food pantry workers say they’ve “never seen anything like this” and aren’t sure they’ll be able to meet the continued need for food.

food pantry

As an increasing number of Pennsylvanians lose their jobs and seek help, area food pantries are worried they won’t be able to keep up with the increased demand.

“We may not have enough. That would be the first time this has happened in the 55 years we’ve been around,” Erin Lukoss of the Bucks County Opportunity Council said.

The Bucks County Opportunity Council in Doylestown, which helps low-income individuals and families throughout Bucks County, distributes thousands of pounds of food each week. It sends the food items to smaller pantries in the county, which then give the food to individuals and families. But in recent weeks, those pantries have seen a steep rise in clients.

“On Tuesday, our Warminster [pantry] saw 185 households. Normally, it’s just 120. And the one in Bristol ... we are not sure if we’ll be able to meet the need. We’re packing food for 350 households, but usually, we pack for 200," Lukoss said.

Many of the people visiting food pantries have never sought help before, Lukoss said.  

“We’re seeing people that don’t typically come to a food pantry," Lukoss said. "But they’re weeks without a paycheck and [their] unemployment checks haven’t come in.

Manna on Main Street in Montgomery County is reporting a similar trend.

“We think we’ve served an additional 86 families in the last three weeks that are new to us,” said Suzan Neiger-Gould, executive director of the food center. “We expanded our hours…we are giving 300-400 to-go meals a day. Before this, we would give out 100.”

Neiger-Gould said for now, she’s not worried about having enough supplies.  

“We estimated that even if all donations ceased, we could operate for probably about a month," she said. "If food donations drop by 50 percent, we could operate for two months.”

However, she is worried about what may happen to resources at Manna on Main Street down the line.

“If our stock has been so depleted, we’re going to have a hard time covering food donations in June, July and August,” Neiger-Gould said.

Both Manna on Main Street and the Bucks County Opportunity Council receive supplies from Philabundance. The non-profit, which helps feed 90,000 people every week, is also feeling the strain.

“The biggest problem is the supply chain. Because of panic buying, manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand. We can’t buy food as regularly we as used to,” Samantha Retamar of Philabundance said.

Often, grocery stores donate their excess food supply to Philabundance. But recently, that’s decreased by 40 percent. That’s forced Philabundance to buy more food, which raises another problem.

“Food prices have increased by 20-30 percent,” Retamar said.

Luckily, she said, individuals and organizations have stepped up with monetary donations. Some Philadelphia athletes like Bryce Harper and Ben Simmons have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to hunger relief.

“This is a marathon for us — not a sprint," Retamar said. "People are going to be needing help for months or maybe even a year.”

If you’d like to donate to Philabundance, you can do so here.

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