A program in South Philadelphia that in three months has distributed more than 50,000 pounds of frozen meat and dairy products to anyone in need from around the region is shutting down, a victim of its overwhelming success.
A flier announcing the program's suspension was handed out to hundreds of people who lined up Monday afternoon for the weekly Philabundance food giveaway at Front and Dickinson Streets.
"When I saw that letter today, saying they were going to cut it out, I said, 'Oh, no,' " said Mary Seddler, 55, a part-time caregiver from Darby Borough. "This was really helping me. I am shocked."
Marlo DelSordo, a spokeswoman for Philabundance, the nonprofit organization that provides free food to people in need, said the agency was ending the program because it had become too big and "created stresses" on the neighborhood.
DelSordo said the giveaway, held beneath I-95 each Monday from 1 to 2 p.m., has attracted more than 500 people each week since it was launched 11 weeks ago.
"We're closing because we created this pilot program and it has far surpassed the crowds we anticipated," DelSordo said. "We thought we would get 175 to 250 people a week. We never expected crowds of 500 people."
Residents, business owners, and community groups have complained about the size of the crowds, DelSordo said. "We have folks who are lining up at 6 a.m. until the end, and it creates a lot of stress in the neighborhood," DelSordo said.
Seddler, who came with her friend Polly Young, 65, said she regretted that the program was ending.
"We've been coming here since April," Seddler said. "We've been here about five times. It really helps. Times are hard and you can't make ends meet. This really helps with the food bill."
Young said the free food had helped feed her three grandchildren.
"I come a long way for the food," said Young. "It helps when I can give the kids a hamburger or a sandwich when they come from school."
DelSordo said the Mobile Food Center attracted so many people because it offered meat. She said a similar Philabundance program, "Fresh for All," has offered free fruits and vegetables on Fridays from 1:30 to 2 p.m. since October. DelSordo said that program, which draws fewer people, would continue.
The meat giveaways were held at Front Street because Philabundance could not store all the meat it receives from stores and restaurants. In June, the agency is opening a second warehouse and that will allow the distribution of meat to the 300 agencies Philabundance serves in Philadelphia and 200 more throughout the region.
DelSordo said details on the future of the frozen meat program would be available after Labor Day at 215-220-1920. She said those in need of food assistance may call Philabundance's Food Help Line at 800-319-3663.
William Shoester, 65, a retired longshoreman from South Philadelphia, received bacon, sausage, lunch meat, and hamburger from the program on Monday. He said the free food was a benefit "when you live on a fixed income and have to squeeze every penny.".
Shoester said he had received free meat each Friday for 11 weeks. "It's been a big help. I have to give them a big cheer for doing this all this time. Everything doesn't last forever," he said.