Philabundance: Fresher, better and in more languages
With a legacy of 30 years operating in the region, Philabundance started 2015 by announcing a new executive director. Last June Glenn Bergman took the reins of the nonprofit organization and with it a new opportunity to continue the multiple programs that each week reach 90,000 people suffering from hunger.
"The organization has a very robust program collecting about $10 million worth of food a year from groceries, which enables us to serve 400 agencies," Bergman said. "As I got closer to the organization I started to see things that it does that are absolutely amazing, and that I had never known about."
Recently the organization ended its "Hunger Action Month" initiative, which surpassed its original goal of raising 30,000 meals in 30 days during the month of September.
A little known fact is that the organization not only provides services in Philadelphia but reaches nine counties in the region including Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery in Pennsylvania, and Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem in New Jersey.
“People definitely have a misconception the people who face hunger,” said Stefanie Arck-Baynes, senior manager of Communications at Philabundance. “Hunger hits every zip code in America. You have a lot of people who struggle in the winter with ‘do I heat or do I eat?’“
For Bergman a key aspect of the organization’s mission is the ability to serve people in a dignified manner. “This is something that is spoken of quite often in the world of providing food for people in need.”
A recent project implemented in the city of Chester has proven effective.“The ‘Fare & Square’ project is a very interesting program, one that on the long term could be something that we see happening nationally,” Bergman said. It is a nonprofit grocery store, the first of its type in the country, and it provides a full range of products from meats, fish to dairy and produce.”
Chester has not had a supermarket since 2001. According to a 2010 Philabundance community survey, more than 54 percent of families have had to go to surrounding areas to buy food.
Through a special membership benefit offered to individuals and families in need of support, every time you shop, members have the opportunity to earn extra money, good for future purchases. SNAP (Food Stamps) is accepted, as well, to be deducted from future purchases.
Last year around 800 residents under SNAP received the store’s benefits.
Currently the organization provides services with the support of 20,000 volunteers in and out of the warehouse every year and now is on the lookout for many more, especially from the minority communities they serve.
“We serve a lot of members from the Latino and Asian community, and also Easter European residents. So language becomes a barrier when it comes to community outreach,” Arck-Baynes said.
She said they have been trying to recruit more Asian volunteers and interpreters who can translate informative material, because of the many different dialects within that community.
One of the programs that services a good number of Asian and Latino residents in the initiative “Fresh For All,” a traveling farmer’s market set up at the same location and same time every week so local residents can rely on it.
In South Philly., it provides fruits and vegetables every Friday at the intersection of Front and Tasker Streets.
Marisela Carmona, a native of Mexico and a Philadelphia resident for the last 15 years, is one of the first Latino volunteers involved with the organization. For the past six years she has participated in the “Fresh For All” program and also recruited other Spanish-speaking volunteers.
"I love helping and meeting new people. I try to volunteer once a week for about three hours. Once we arrive at the distribution site, we set up the tables and ration the food to start distributing individually," Carmona said.
She added that the number of people of Hispanic origin who seek the support of the organization has increased in recent years. "When I first started volunteering there weren’t that many latinos seeking our service — maybe due to different factors such as lack of information, fear or even shame."
Many volunteers who collaborate with Philabundance come from community groups or churches. Among the churches serving the Latino community are Iglesia de Dios Renacer in Montgomery County, as well as Soldiers of the Lord, Pentecostal Church Of God, and the Greater Philadelphia Asian Social Service Center in Philadelphia.
“We would love to have more church groups from the Latino community involved. Also to see Latino representation in giving to Philabundance and also through the volunteer program to be an intregral part of the organization,” Bergman said. “Most of our money comes from fundraising, and the individuals in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas are amazing at giving to this program and we need them to continue to give.”
Among Bergman’s goals is one to focus on as much fresh product as the organization can get. "I really want to grow the relationship between Philabundance and farmers so that there are enough local farmers so during the season we can have a very robust program."
For more information on how to volunteer for the "Fresh For All" initiative and other Philabundance programs you can call (215) 339-0900 or send an email to [email protected].