Roughly one in five people suffer from food insecurity in Philadelphia—a statistic that amounts to some 300,000 of us who lack regular, reliable access to daily meals.
Alarmingly, that number that has climbed upwards over the past decade, even as the nation’s overall numbers of food insecure citizens went down. And that’s that’s all according to a 2018 report by Hunger Free America; COVID-19 has only worsened the plight.
Of course, the one silver lining is that countless agencies and organizations throughout Philadelphia have continued to step up to address the problem, getting food to people who need it. But they can still use your help.
So what does helping ease hunger in our city look like on an individual level? Keep reading for all kinds of ways you play a role in helping make sure that Philadelphians who need food can get it right now.
1. Donate to a food bank or pantry
Local food banks provide thousands of meals each year to needy Philadelphians, but they need our help stocking their pantries. If you have extra food items lying around, consider donating to an agency near to you—or, if you’re able, pick up some items to give away the next time you’re at the grocery store.
You can find a great list of food banks at the Coalition Against Hunger site. (You can filter the organizations by food pantry and soup kitchen, as well as by geography; the site also lists the phone number, so you can see what donations they might need and how to proceed.)
Meantime, longtime Philly food-distribution agency Philabundance also features a map of its many partnering agencies (though you can also donate directly to the Philabundance warehouse); its website offers a list of most-needed items, such as peanut butter and jelly, or canned fruits and vegetables. Again: If you’re not working off a list, consider calling before you donate to see what’s truly helpful. (Translation: Nobody wants that case of creamed corn from 1995.)
2. Or donate money to a food bank or pantry
Philabundance points out that your $20 bill will buy a case of peanut butter for a family. The Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission says $50 will supply one of its guests three full hot meals on Thanksgiving day (plus services like showers and laundry).
A mere seven bucks covers the cost of a restaurant-donated meal through the Step Up to the Plate partnership between Broad Street Ministries, Project H.O.M.E. and other partners.
The Food Bank of South Jersey notes that $35 a month provides $1,260 meals a year. And the Share Food Program—which already serves some one million Philadelphians a month—is currently expanding its food distribution footprint still further as a response to the Covid crisis. The point is this: Your money can go a long way in terms of immediate impact on hunger.
3. And super-charge that cash donation
Ask about a donation-matching program at your place of employment, which can be a simple way to double or even triple your giving to organizations working to fight Philadelphia food insecurity. You should also know that the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act has made giving a bit easier by creating a one-time $300 deduction for qualified charitable contributions … like giving to food banks, for instance.
4. Give your time
Consider volunteering at local food banks and pantries to help sort and distribute food to those who need it. (If you want to stay in your ‘hood to do it, you can find and call your local agencies using this guide.)
You could also work directly with local hunger-fighting organizations that specialize in different types of programs (e.g. handing out sandwiches, organizing outdoor food distribution, serving restaurant-style meals, meals for seniors, and so forth).
Check out organizations like Fooding Forward, Sunday Love Project, Broad Street Ministry, the Mitzvah Food Program, D.O.P.E. (Doing Our Part Eclectically), Welcome Bread, or Caring For Friends (to name a few!) to help package, serve or deliver food to hungry people across Philadelphia.
5. Schedule a food pick up with an app
Download the Food Connect app on your phone to schedule a pick up of any food items you want to donate. Just type in your name, address and how much food you want to donate, and someone will come by to pick it up. It’s that easy!
6. Choose the right mover
Are you moving? The New Jersey nonprofit Move For Hunger works with moving companies across North America to pack up any food that you aren’t taking with you and deliver it to a local food pantry—all you have to do in terms of effort is to hire the right firm. Quoth their website: “Why is this important? Because 32 million Americans move every single year. If we recovered just 1 pound of food from each of them, we’d be able to provide 27 million meals to families struggling with food insecurity.”
8. Help end food waste
In Philadelphia, an estimated 20 percent of edible food goes to waste, and pre-Covid, restaurants were a major culprit. This is what led Abbe Stern to start Fooding Forward, an organization that helps restaurants and hotels in Philadelphia put excess food to good use.
Pre-Covid, it was easy to support Fooding Forward simply by supporting restaurants that donated to it. These days, though, Stern says restaurant waste has narrowed to almost nothing, as eateries have been forced to plan their supplies down to the bite in order to survive. Instead, she says, more waste is now coming from farm produce, or snacks, drinks and coffee that would have gone to office buildings or schools. So Fooding Forward, along with other organizations like Sharing Excess, Food Connect, Philly Food Rescue, Common Market (and others) have all stepped up their game in helping keep good food out of the landfill and into the hands of people who need it.
Stern says right now the best way to help is by volunteering at any of these organizations; distribution and transportation needs in particular have shot way up during Covid. Of course, you can always donate money to keep all of the many wheels turning, too. If you don’t know where to start, you can go to the Fooding Forward site and enter your contact info as an interested potential volunteer or donor.
9. Help stock community fridges
Community fridges are exactly what they sound like—fridges (okay, and pantries) that are both stocked and used by the community around them. Over the course of the pandemic, more and more community fridges have popped up in neighborhoods around the city—from South Philly to Germantown to West Philly to the Northeast and more.
Run by various individuals and groups, the fridges are usually powered by local businesses who offer up an outlet; the food comes from community members who have it to donate, or who shop to stock it. Most of the fridges’ Instagram accounts (linked above) offer information on how to donate, wishlists, volunteer sign-ups and more.
10. Do some community gardening
The produce plucked right out of the garden is not only fresher and often better tasting than what you find in a produce aisle, but growing food in our communities is an effective way to help solve Philadelphia’s problem of food deserts. Use this map to find a community garden near you: In many cases, you can volunteer. Or, if you find that COVID has brought more time or altruistic ambition into your life, consider starting your own community garden. Here’s a good guide on how to get started in Philadelphia.
11. Or support urban gardening by buying from the right places
Does the thought of doing your own garden seem daunting? You can still help further the cause by purchasing fruits, vegetables, cheeses and meats from some of the urban farms working to fight food insecurity in Philadelphia, such as Greensgrow, the Sankofa Community Farm at Bartram’s Garden and Weavers Way. Farmers’ markets are a great place to start, too. Find one nearest you with this map by The Food Trust.
13. Learn more about food insecurity in Philadelphia
Donating and volunteering are clear and immediate ways to help the hungry in Philadelphia, but it also helps to have an understanding of the underlying causes of food insecurity in our city. Broke in Philly is a collaborative reporting project that works with 20 media outlets—including The Citizen—to support journalism about solutions to hunger, poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. Follow them to stay abreast of the reporting they’re doing.
14. Contact your electeds
It’s hard to move the needle on food insecurity in Philadelphia without the help of our elected officials and their resources. Have an idea or proposed bill that you’re passionate about? Take the time to contact your City Council rep or Congress member to let them know. Here’s how to do it.
15. Give to someone who is hungry
Consider how much your last cup of Starbucks cost. For that––or probably much less––you could buy food for someone on the street. (After all, Wawa has prepared foods, pre-packaged foods, water, mik, coffee, veggies .. you name it. Same goes for 7-11, most bodegas, mini-marts ….) Sometimes it’s the slightest gestures that make the biggest difference.