WHEN GLENN BERGMAN was a catering chef in Philadelphia in the '80s and '90s, he had no place to take the leftover food he had after events. Sometimes Bergman would drop it off at St. John's Hospice, and on occasion he'd take the chocolate-dipped strawberries to Pennsylvania Hospital, where his wife worked, to be distributed amongst the staff.
So when Pamela Rainey Lawler founded Philabundance in 1984 and began picking up leftovers from caterers, "It saved us from having the bad feeling of throwing the food out," Bergman said.
That was Bergman's first experience with Philabundance. Now, after decades of working in the Philadelphia food industry, including in his last position as general manager of Weavers Way Co-op, Bergman finds himself at the very place that saved him the bad feeling of throwing away all that food all those years ago.
In June, Bergman, 64, was named executive director of Philabundance, now a massive hunger-relief organization serving three quarters of a million people in the Delaware Valley. He sat down with Stephanie Farr to talk about Preston & Steve's Camp Out for Hunger, which starts Monday, and about his experiences so far at one of the city's most well-known nonprofits.
Q From your work before Philabundance, how does it feel different to give food away as opposed to having to throw it away?
There's a win-win when you're able to have a staff see that the food is being used. Nobody, especially working people - and most people working in the food industry are working people - wants to see this food wasted. It's really immoral to be throwing food out that's still good.
Q You came on as executive directorin June, but you've worked in the food industry for decades. What has surprised you most about the inner workings of Philabundance that may not be apparent to those outside of the organization?
Well, the scope of the problem is much bigger than I ever expected. When you hear that there are 750,000 people in the area that Philabundance covers that at some point during the year are food-insecure . . . that's been a real surprise to me.
I also had no idea that Philabundance was serving, through the agencies it works with, about 90,000 people a week.
I didn't realize the way they get the food - the way that this group in acquisition gets food from the docks, the back of grocery stores and the manufacturers to the agencies. The logistics of it are amazing.
Q This is your first Thanksgiving season as executive director. Is this the busiest season for giving and receiving?
It's very busy. We've got a lot of donations coming in. We wish it could be busy all year like this.
Q Have you found a way to accurately describe what it feels like to go hungry to those who have never experienced it?
We've got a corporate donor and she said to me the other day that one thing that struck her, even though she volunteers here sorting and even though she gives us a lot of money from her foundation, the thing that really touched her was when she volunteered recently at a soup kitchen and helped serve food and she actually ran into somebody who she knew from the suburbs and she said she had to go in the back and cry.
I think that's the powerful thing, to actually go and see it. You can read about. I read about it my whole life. But it wasn't until I started to see it that, you know (tears up).
Q Is the fight against hunger a battle that can be won?
That is our ultimate goal. One thing that's clear to all of us here is that we can't do this alone. It's become very clear to us that we need to work in collaboration with all the other agencies and people who are in this fight.
Q Preston and Steve's Camp Out for Hunger begins Monday and runs through Friday at XFinity Live. Last year they gathered 840,000 pounds of food and raised more than $100,000 for Philabundance. What wacky stunts are you prepared to participate in on live radio for the sake of Philabundance?
I'll do anything except take off my . . . No, haha. We just want to have some fun around something that's a really great community drive. I think that these two guys and WMMR have really hit a positive note by doing something good, but also having fun while they're doing it.