Wreaking havoc on food security across Philadelphia, COVID-19 forced the city to expand its public food distribution sites, placing added pressure on the city’s vulnerable populations.
But what about those who continue to fall through the cracks? Jan Shaeffer, president and CEO of St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children, calls them “invisible.” They’re underserved, overlooked by government programs and, in some cases, lacking documentation. Her organization is targeting those who they view are most at-risk.
St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children, along with their partner organizations, have teamed up to distribute free, emergency food to about 700 families per week, who visit one of the four participating sites to collect a box of fresh fruits and vegetables. The program is supported by the foundation’s funding, and grants from the PHL COVID-19 Fund and the Department of Agriculture.
“We see a lot of immigrant families through our community oral health initiative, our Care Mobile … and there’s a lot of feeling of isolation,” Shaeffer said. “They feel, especially with job loss through this, that they don’t have a social safety net that other groups do.”
While the COVID-19 emergency food program is new, the groundwork was laid about 10 years ago when the foundation started their Farm to Families initiative. Farm to Families allows all Philadelphians the chance to purchase a weekly box of organic food. The program, which is on-going, also provides food at a discounted rate to those who qualify.
When the pandemic worsened, the foundation took the knowledge and strategy gained through their Farm to Families program and began providing food boxes free of charge to immigrant and refugee families.
All of the food arrives at the Ronald McDonald House (RMHC) on Erie Ave. near Front St. where staff and volunteers from the foundation and RMHC work in assembly lines packing boxes to be distributed to families at the emergency food program’s sites.
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Those sites include community organizations like the African Family Health Organization (AFAHO), which already has the pre-existing trust and connections needed to reach immigrant and refugee families in the community.
Mafoune Camara has been using the food program at AFAHO for the last few months to help feed herself and five children. As a single mother, she hit hard times after the daycare where she worked closed as a result of the pandemic.
“It was really hard for me,” Camara said. Originally from Mali, she’s lived in the U.S. for the past 22 years. It was a simple transition for her to seek food from AFAHO during the pandemic, because she’s sought the organization help in the past in getting clothes and diapers for her family.
Her kids, she said, are not picky by nature and have been excited to receive the food boxes, often asking her what day they’re expected to pick them up.
Shaeffer said the Foundation’s biggest challenge is making sure they have enough money to continue supporting their partner organizations, who are providing emergency food to families like Camara’s.
Shaeffer said she’s inspired by the “spirit of getting it done” she’s witnessed from all the organizations that are collaborating to make this possible. “If there’s one thing that I will probably remember for the rest of my life, through this, is the power of that,” she said.-30-
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