by April Lisante
This week, my local church sent out a photo of its food pantry for the needy. I had just been to the grocery store to stock up for the week, and seeing the photo broke my heart. Half-empty, anemic-looking shelves stared back at me in the photo, as the e-mail talked about an urgent need to donate non-perishable groceries to restock the shelves.
I went through my pantry at home and assembled cans, boxes of pasta and other items that I dropped off outside the church rectory at Our Mother of Consolation on Chestnut Hill Ave. Other locals who did likewise helped refill the pantry, which feeds walk-in families and local organizations like Face to Face in Germantown, a neighborhood center in Camden, N.J. and The Welcome Table neighborhood help organization at St. James School in North Philly.
As unemployment continues to rise, the elderly remain homebound and children are away from school, where some receive free lunches, now more than ever it is critical that regardless of our religious affiliations, we help keep pantries and neighborhood centers in our Chestnut Hill area stocked for those in need. The problem is far from temporary, say those who donate their time and effort to the cause. It is a long-term issue we need to continue to address as the weeks drag on.
“The need is so great that as soon as we get the food to them, they give it out,” said OMC Pastor Fr. Bob Bazzoli. “The generosity of the people for those in need has been overwhelming and humbling.”
Like OMC, Chestnut Hill’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church has had a long history of caring for the interfaith community. Each year, the famous St. Paul’s September church rummage sale raises money for outreach ministries. Now, there is an unprecedented need to help feed local families.
You may have spotted a huge sign this week at the end of the Episcopal church driveway on Chestnut Hill Ave. The “Shop and Drop Food for the Hungry” sign is an Eastertide effort urging locals to literally drive through the driveway to the Dixon House building and drop off bags of groceries and non-perishable foods.
The food is delivered weekly to several local organizations that are struggling to feed families, the elderly and the homebound. Some of the food this week went to a food pantry in Mount Airy. The most critical items are foods for families and especially children like peanut butter, jelly, tuna and shelf stable milk, as well as carbohydrates like granola bars and healthy fruit cups and applesauce.
“With unemployment the way it is, we are going to keep doing this for a very long time,” said St. Paul’s Interim rector the Reverend Canon Albert Ogle. “This is not a race, this is a marathon.”
One of the organizations that receives deliveries of OMC canned and boxed goods is Face to Face in Germantown, a non-profit that has helped residents and the homeless for more than three decades. Face to Face has also been distributing food packages to the hungry on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays from 12 to 2 p.m. at 123 Price St. in Germantown. While prepared meals are donated by Wawa and a Philadelphia restaurant group, non-perishable donations from the public are critical right now, because no one is turned away from grocery and toiletry pick-up lines. They are most in need of grocery items, hand sanitizer, homemade masks and tissues.
“All are welcome,” said executive director Mary Kay Meeks-Hank. “It is beyond heartbreaking to see people standing in line for food. I am devastated by the increase in inequality that this crisis has caused.”
At OMC, parishioner Laura McKenna coordinates yet another food effort in need of volunteers, the Caring for Friends initiative, which delivers frozen prepared meals to the local homebound and needy. The organization has been around for nearly three decades, but the past couple of months has created an even more dire need for the service.
“We typically make 300 meals a month,” McKenna said. “I’d say we are double that now.”
One 75-year-old parishioner has been making between 50 and 100 meals herself each week, McKenna said. It’s as easy as picking up foil trays, taking them home and filling them with nutritious precooked food, then freezing them and returning them to OMC. If you are making a chicken dinner for your family, for example, package some extra and freeze it for someone in need.
“The trays are at the back of the church Sunday mornings, or in the chapel every day,” McKenna said.
If you are reading this and thinking: I don’t enjoy cooking, or I don’t want to do an extra grocery shopping each week, there is another way to help. Volunteers from every organization across the board repeatedly urged locals to consider an online donation. If cans would have totaled $25 at the grocery store, for example, donate a like amount online and it will be used to buy the food for those in need.
Money is helpful because no matter what, no one who lines up for their next meal is ever turned away.
Face to Face, 123 East Price St., Phila, Pa. 215-849-0179, www.facetofacegermantown.org.
Our Mother of Consolation, 9 East Chestnut Hill Ave., Phila., Pa. 215-247-0430 #7, www.omcparish.com.
Caring for Friends, www.caringforfriends.org.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 22 East Chestnut Hill Ave., Phila., Pa, 215-242-2055, www.stpaulschestnuthill.org.
The Welcome Table, St. James School, 3217 West Clearfield St., Phila. Pa., 215-226-1276, www.stjamesphila.org.
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