Philabundance sees increase in need due to pandemic, inflation
Chanel Hill, TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER | Aug 2, 2022
Thanks to the pandemic, the economic crisis and inflation, Philabundance, a nonprofit food bank that serves southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey, has seen an increase in need of the people they serve.
The nonprofit says it’s currently serving 135,000 people a week, up from 90,000 before the pandemic.
Philabundance agencies also faced an increase of 60% in people they serve. Nearly 40% of the people who have turned to Philabundance were new to the emergency food system.
“In a given year, we were distributing about 25 million pounds of pre-pandemic food,” said Philabundance CEO Loree Jones in a recent Philadelphia Tribune editorial board meeting.
“We’re now distributing 52 million pounds a year — the most ever and 60% more than our pre-pandemic year,” she added. “We are doubling the amount of food that we’re giving to people in this area.”
In 2020, almost a third of Philadelphia children experienced food insecurity, a 30% growth over the year prior, according to the national network of food pantries Feeding America. Overall hunger peaked and then remained elevated at 17% in 2021.
Today, inflation has hit a 30-year high and supply chain issues are fueling a rise in prices for goods across the country.
The food index increased by 10.4% for the 12 months ending in June, the largest 12-month increase since 1981. The food index for meats, poultry, fish and eggs increased by 11.7% compared to last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The increase in food costs along with disruptions in the food supply chain has caused Philabundance to also increase its spending on food.
The agency originally budgeted to spend about $125,000 per month or $1,500,500 for the year before the pandemic hit. But by the end of fiscal year 2020, Philabundance actually spent $4.4 million to address the growing need of food.
The nonprofit spent an annual total of $11.1 million for food in fiscal year 2021 and $12 million in food acquisition through nine months in fiscal year 2022. Philabundance is budgeted to pay $13.6 million on food in fiscal year 2023. The organization is funded by donations from foundations, corporations and individuals, as well as by Feeding America, a nationwide charitable food organization to which Philabundance belongs.
“We had to really refocus our efforts by adding capacity in a number of ways to provide more food,” Jones said. “That means support from the government, more funding and more food.
“We went from spending about $125,000 a month in that fiscal year pre-pandemic on food to half a million dollars,” she added. “My budget now is to spend a little over $13 million a year on food and that’s because we need to provide more food and everything costs more, so our costs have gone up.”
To help address the issues that have been caused by the pandemic and inflation, Jones said Philabundance has been getting food wholesale, sought out more funding and increased their fundraising efforts.
“We’re able to get donated food locally and nationally; we’re also able to get food at wholesale with much cheaper prices,” Jones said. “In some cases, it’s costing us more in the transportation of produce here than it is even to pay for the produce.
“The community has been incredibly generous, but foundations, individuals, corporations have given more to food banks, not just here at Philabundance, but across the country,” she added. “Fundraising efforts also almost match what we’ve had to spend.”
This year, Philabundance launched its Good Food Policy initiative. The initiative provides Philabundance communities with the foods they want and deserve through nutrition, being culturally diverse, equitably sourced and accessible.
“We’re really prioritizing more nutritious foods; we want to make sure people have access to healthy food,” Jones said. “We want to provide people with food that they understand and know by increasing culturally responsive foods.
“We want to look at how we spend our dollars in terms of our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and equitable sourcing,” she said. “We’re prioritizing and sourcing where we can from local farmers, minority and women owned businesses and developing a procurement policy to address that for our organization.
“We also care about when and how people are accessing food so we’re operating differently to ensure people can have access to food,” she added. “We’ve added home delivery options, a senior food box program and we partnered with DoorDash to get food delivered to seniors. We want to make sure we’re providing access in the way that people need it.”