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Philly Relief Organizations Face Challenges as Need Grows

Local non-profits, Bebashi and Philabundance, see increased need during coronavirus pandemic

They were already helping tens of thousands of people in the Philadelphia region with food and other essentials. Now, two of the region's largest food pantries serving the disadvantaged, Bebashi and Philabundance, are watching the need for their services skyrocket.

"Right now, we're ok with the food supply, but it won't stay that way if more become unemployed," Bebashi executive director Gary Bell said. "We expanded our food pantry hours to let more people in. The lines were out the door."

Bebashi provides support services for up to 15,000 HIV patients a year in the Philadelphia region. The organization also runs a food pantry and provides health care and case management to its clients. Bell is relieved Bebashi held a successful fundraiser before the Coronavirus pandemic escalated. But now, he's worried about the organization keeping up with increased demand.

"We used to serve about 50 to 75 people a week through our food pantry each week. And now, we're approaching 100 a week," Gary Bell said. "That number keeps trending up."

Bebashi gets some of its supplies from Philabundance, the region's largest hunger relief organization. Through its 350 partnering agencies, Philabundance serves 90,000 people a week. But it's had challenges due to the outbreak.

"Some of our food pantries are telling us they're seeing 50-60 more clients, and that number is rising," Samantha Retamar of Philabundance said.

On Thursday, Philabundance announced it would stop distributing food to pantries through Saturday, after two of its staff members said they either came into contact with someone diagnosed with the Coronavirus, or live with someone who is experiencing symptoms but has not yet been diagnosed.

Retamar told NBC10 that none of its workers has tested positive for the Coronavirus. Still, the nonprofit's warehouses and workspaces would undergo a deep cleaning.

"We are doing a hospital-grade cleaning. In order to make sure it's effective, it'll take 24 hours after it's done to make sure it takes. On Monday, we will resume food distribution," Retamar said.

Philabundance already has much of its staff working from home and has cut its volunteer staff from 45 to 20 people. Remaining volunteers are told to work six feet apart, in keeping with social distancing rules.

Despite the recent disruption, Retamar said Philabundance is ready for the challenge.

"We understand the public is looking to us," Retamar said. "We are working with food banks across the country to meet the need."

Retamar encourages anyone who needs food to call (800)-5-HUNGRY to find a local emergency provider.

Anyone wanting to donate to Bebashi can do so here: https://www.bebashi.org/donate/.

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