As area residents grapple with school and business closures due to the coronavirus, Archdiocese of Philadelphia outreaches are working to provide food and diapers to families in need.
Nutritional Development Services (NDS) will continue to offer federally funded meals to children at 13 sites throughout Philadelphia, Chester, Norristown and Upland, said executive director Lizanne Hagedorn.
Each year, NDS (a beneficiary of the Catholic Charities Appeal) serves approximately 10 million meals through the USDA’s school breakfast, lunch and child care food programs. Hagedorn and her staff are collaborating with local school district officials to sustain the meal programs at selected locations.
To minimize any interpersonal contact that could accelerate the spread of the virus, NDS has shifted to a “grab and go” delivery system, Hagedorn said.
“People can pull up in front of the building, and someone outside will hand them the food,” she said.
NDS staff are also continuing to support some 22 emergency food pantries throughout Philadelphia and the four suburban counties.
Several of the pantries are managed by archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS; also a beneficiary of the Catholic Charities Appeal) at its seven family service centers, which now have “expanded pantry hours,” said Amy Stoner, director of CSS’s housing and homeless services division.
A ‘Staggering’ Ripple Effect
Demand for both food and diapers has increased, with client visits up at a number of CSS outreaches, according to site managers.
“We are seeing an increase in food pantry requests outside of the normal days of operation,” said Maritherese Mitchell, administrator of CSS’s Bucks County family services centers in Levittown and Bensalem.
Martha’s Choice Marketplace, the emergency food pantry at CSS’s Norristown site, experienced a “100% increase in client volume on Monday,” said director Patrick Walsh.
He expects that trend to continue due to the pandemic, as concerns rise “about food availability, income loss resulting from the shutdown and stock market volatility over the past week.”
Those receiving federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits may also find themselves short on food supplies, said Hagedorn.
“We’re in the middle of the month, and people using SNAP generally run out of their benefits before the end of the month,” she said.
Currently, the estimated average monthly SNAP allocation for a household of four is approximately $465. Until last week, some 700,000 low-income Americans were set to be disqualified from the program through a Trump administration rule change that has since been blocked by a federal judge.
Hagedorn said the “ripple effect” from the pandemic, school and business closures, and the typical mid-month SNAP stretch is “staggering.”
Archdiocesan workers have also been impacted, including the direct service providers at St. Edmond’s Home for Children.
Located in Rosemont, the home is an intermediate care facility for children aged six weeks to 21 years with a range of profound physical and intellectual disabilities.
The site’s staff food pantry is “needed now more than ever,” said administrator Denise Clofine.
“Direct service providers are among our working poor,” she said. “Some have family members who are out of work and are really struggling.”
In addition to groceries, diapers are placing a strain on many household budgets.
Infants and toddlers require between 8 to 12 diaper changes per day, according to the National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN). With monthly disposable diaper costs averaging about $80 per baby, one in three American families experience what NDBN calls “diaper need.”
Diaper need can take a toll on an infant’s health, said Stoner.
“Babies who are sitting in dirty diapers for long periods of time can develop rashes and urinary tract infections,” she said. “It’s a major health issue.”
Emotional well-being is also at risk, she added, since “when a baby is sick and has difficulty calming herself down, it leads in turn to frustration for the parents.”
Stoner said CSS’s diaper stock levels are sufficient for now, but “that will diminish quickly.”
Mitchell said she is coordinating with the nonprofit Greater Philadelphia Diaper Bank to maintain stock levels at her family service center.
‘We need more help’
Along with supplies, outreach sites need more workers, Mitchell said.
“Strategically, we do need to monitor and provide for staff and volunteer well-being,” said Mitchell, noting that the site’s food cupboard has seen “a steep decline in volunteers, with the average age being over 70.”
Mitchell and her staff have enlisted family members to take on tasks normally handled by such volunteers.
At Martha’s Choice, Walsh and assistant director Eli Wenger are “reallocating volunteers” to protect vulnerable populations, while forming a plan that “takes into account the cycles of infection and recovery that will likely go on within our staff team,” Walsh said.
He recognizes the need to sustain operations at Martha’s Choice “minus one or even two staff,” but they are “desperate for able-bodied young people” to assist with operations.
“We need more help to maintain even at our current level,” Walsh said, noting that on Tuesday the food pantry accepted and distributed some 8,000 pounds of food within nine hours.
For those unable to assist in person, NDS is sponsoring an online “One-Can Meal” drive. Participants can shop for an array of non-perishable food items, or for complete “food boxes” ranging from $25 to $250.
Tax receipts are available at the time of purchase, and the donated goods will be shipped directly to NDS after the drive ends on April 3.
Above all, said Stoner, “we need to support each other during this challenging time” through collaboration and communication, especially from a spiritual perspective.
Amid the pandemic, Stoner has been quoting a favorite maxim of Father Christopher Walsh, pastor of St. Raymond of Penafort Parish in Philadelphia:
“Stay prayed up.”
For COVID-19 resources and information from Catholic Social Services (CSS), visit https://cssphiladelphia.org/covid19/
[This article by Gina Christian originally appeared in and is used with the permission of CatholicPhilly.com, March 20, 2020.]