Check out the story in today’s Daily Times about Chester Eastside’s food pantry in the midst of coronavirus. https://www.delcotimes.com/…/article_cbc69c9c-7cf3-11ea-873… #dailytimes #foodinsecurity #coronavirus #covid19 #socialdistancing #chestereastside
CHESTER – For the last month, coronavirus has seemingly been the only topic on most people’s lips.
To those struggling with the source of their next meal, however, it is just one more difficulty of the many they face every day.
While some food pantries throughout Delaware County are experiencing temporary closures, Chester Eastside Inc. has remained open 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Monday and Wednesday, to serve city residents. Food insecurity was an issue before COVID-19, and will continue to be one during and after the pandemic, and the agency is helping to meet their needs.
“We do not have plans to alter the schedule since DIFAN (Delaware County Interfaith Food Assistance Network) has a staggered schedule of open pantries in Chester and the county,” said CEI Executive Director Rev. Zuline Wilkinson. “We will continue to serve the hungry in our city.”
CEI’s food pantry saw a 150% increase in new clients in March, an iincrease from 39 to 98 individuals and families requesting emergency food assistance. At each visit, participants are offered enough bagged food to provide each family member with three meals a day for five days.
The agency has been adhering to all CDC and Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines. Its skeleton crew of volunteers has been pre-bagging all items, frequently sanitizing the common area and limiting access to the building.
“We must handle crowds in this manner for everyone’s protection,” said pantry manager Norman Jordan.
CEI has curtailed its congregate meals, where it typically serves hot lunches supplemented with food from local retirement communities, restaurants and convenience stores, and is instead offering “to-go” snack bags with sandwiches and nutritious munchies for families and homeless persons.
While CEI does not know how many of the 39 children (26 families) in its Phoenix After School program are eligible for the national school lunch program, it knows their parents comprise the “working poor” and has been providing meals for their families as well.
“People need food and we are doing our best to ensure a healthy diet for as many people as we can accommodate.” said Wilkinson.
DIFAN collaborates with Family and Community Service of Delaware County (FCSDC), which received approval from the USDA to use all streams of its emergency assistance program as components of the Disaster Household Distribution. Through April 26, CEI and similar agencies will no longer need to collect self-declaration of need forms to distribute food through the federal or state programs. Should the crisis last beyond that date, FCSDC will request an extension from USDA, said Executive Director Ron Powers.
“We are pleased that the guidelines have been relaxed,” said Wilkinson. “We believe this will expedite traffic in our pantry.”
Coronavirus is a crisis confronting families who already face many challenges and CEI cannot imagine responding to their needs in any other way. That reaction, however, has put a strain on the agency. The economic downturn associated with the pandemic resulted in a 61-percent decrease in donations in the first quarter of 2020, a figure not expected to self-correct in the next three months.
“Contributions to Chester Eastside are appreciated, especially now,” said Wilkinson.
Donations can be made online (https://chestereastside.org/donate/) or mailed to Chester Eastside, Inc., P.O. Box 36, Chester PA, 19016.