As some background, Philabundance is the largest hunger relief nonprofit in the area, serving a total of nine counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They work with about 350 different agencies, through which they reach approximately 90,000 people a week. Nevertheless, Mr. Bergman stressed to us that continuing to move food to people in need, even at the high quantities that they do, will not solve the problem of food insecurity. Rather, he emphasized those policy initiatives that would allow people to access food through existing channels (like grocery stores) would be most effective.
Adding on to this, when asked about food insecurity amongst college students, Mr. Bergman acknowledged that it was an area into which Philabundance wants to expand. He thought that the best way to do so would be to work with the school administrations and implement aid programs that utilize the current dining halls and meal programs, comparable to the subsidized school breakfasts and lunches available at the K-12 level.
Even with the great amount of work that Philabundance already does within Philadelphia and the surrounding counties, Mr. Bergman was excited about other potential opportunities for growth. In addition to expanding to working with colleges and universities, he spoke about the large positive impact that they could have by integrating food banks into the region’s hospital systems. Through these food pantries, doctors and providers could help low-income patients receive proper nutrition, which is especially important in managing chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. Bergman noted that policy too, in this case the ACA, has been pushing more hospitals to think about this overall care management.
Finally, Bergman told of us his hopes for the growth of Fair and Square, Philabundance’s nonprofit grocery store located in Chester, Pennsylvania. Each time a customer shops at Fair and Square, they can earn Carrot Cash. This Carrot Cash can then be used a later date to buy anything in the store. Bergman said that this helps smooth the consumption of people on SNAP benefits, who usually use up their benefits in the first half of the month and have trouble affording groceries at the end.
Fair and Square also does something unlike any other grocery store in the US. It will hand out groceries for free and even notifies members before it does so. According to Bergman, 600,000 pounds of produce and meat have been given away so far, and he wants to see this trend continue.
With 750,000 people in the Delaware Valley facing hunger each day, there is still a lot of work left to do. However, Glenn Bergman and his co-workers at Philabundance are dedicated to finding creative solutions to this persistent problem.