With soaring unemployment, both in the Philadelphia region and across the country, a lot of people need food assistance right now.
According to the World Food Programme, the pandemic will see the number of people suffering acute hunger around the world increase to 265 million, up from 135 million. During the first five weeks of the pandemic, an estimated 26.5 million jobs were claimed nationwide.
If you’re hesitating reaching out for help, there’s no reason to be, says Samantha Retamar, spokesperson for Philabundance, the Philadelphia-based food bank. “I would say that anybody struggling or nervous about accessing should not be,” she said. “You will be met with open arms.”
Here is what you should do if you need food assistance:
Find a pantry near you
Here are some area food banks where you can get help. It’s a good idea to visit their websites and/or social media pages for updated information.
The Food Bank of South Jersey. This food bank supplies approximately 190 food pantries in Camden, Burlington, Gloucester, and Salem Counties.
“The first thing is if you need food, go to our website, and you put your zip code in, it will tell you where the programs are, where the pantries are, and when they are distributing,” said Greg DeLozier, senior director of advocacy and government relations for the Food Bank of South Jersey.
Community Food Bank of New Jersey (Southern Branch). Located in Egg Harbor Township, this branch covers Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland Counties.
Philabundance serves about 350 local pantries in nine counties, five in Southeastern Pennsylvania and four in South Jersey. (Those counties are Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia and in New Jersey, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Salem.) Just type in your zip code and see which food pantry is closest to you.
The city and the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging have opened 23 sites for seniors to get meals. Most sites are for people 60 and over, but some also serve 55 and over. If you want to go, call ahead. Each senior who registers can get five to seven meals a week.
In Philly, the city is offering support for pregnant women, toddlers, and babies, with free food and diapers at more than 10 sites across the city.
The City of Philadelphia and its partners are operating more than 80 meal sites for students. Any child is welcome at any site; no ID required. Full list here.
In New Jersey, the WIC program helps pregnant women or parents with kids who are 5 and under. For information on how to get that support, check the website.
For those looking for food pantries that aren’t aligned with the Food Bank of South Jersey, Philabundance, or Community Food Bank of New Jersey, Retmar recommends some national websites such as Whyhunger.org, where you can find a food pantry near your home on their website map.
Two other useful websites: auntbertha.com and communityresourceconnects.org. Both provide information on social services, including food pantries. All that is needed is to type in your zip code to find out the food pantries in a certain area.
1. Call the pantry first. (Don’t call the food banks, but the individual pantries.)
“It is really important to call first,” said Nicole Williams, communications and public relations manager for the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, which serves a large portion of the state and has its headquarters in Hillside. “Some places only take appointment-only, and others have made changes in their operations.”
2. Remember, operating hours can change. Some pantries have had to close for a variety of reasons, including because volunteers were senior citizens, Retamar said. “With elderly being very much at risk with COVID-19, some have had to shut their doors,” she said.
3. Many food pantries have lifted their restrictions on who can get food. Some, for instance, might not ask about employment status. But you should ask whether the food pantry only serves people from a certain town or county and what identification (if any) you need to bring. Also ask what age groups are eligible because some pantries might, for example, serve only senior citizens.