5 Questions: The Changing Face of Hunger in Philadelphia and its Suburbs

Philabundance's George Matysik: "We're seeing an increase in working poor families."

The challenges keep rising for Philabundance. The Great Recession and its aftermath have seen a rise in poverty and hunger in and around Philadelphia — and Congress’s recent decision to limit food stamps hasn’t made it easier to keep people from going hungry. The organization now serves 72,000 people a week in the Delaware Valley

George Matysik is the director of governmental affairs and public policy for Philabundance. He talked to Philly Mag about his organization’s growing needs, and how you can help. “Hunger is something that affects every citizen in the Delaware Valley,” he said.

We’re seeing news reports that in New York, food pantries are running out of food because of food stamp cuts. What’s the picture here in Philadelphia?

Well, we’re certainly seeing an increase in need, but the need is being met by the community, who have contributed more food than at any time in recent memory. In fact, we just concluded a food drive recently, WMMR’s Camp Out For Hunger, which raised over a million pounds of food for December.

What’s the nature of your clientele? Because there have been plenty of suggestions in recent years that pantries are increasingly serving better educated, usually employed, suburban folks. Are you seeing that same kind of pattern at Philabundance?

Yeah, I think that really over the course of the recession, we’re seeing more and more of an increase in need in working poor families. And so we as an organization are having to push our infrastructure outward more and more to be able to meet that need. In the First Suburbs in particular we’ve seen an increase in need. Philadelphia has seen one of the largest increases as well. It’s definitely a growing issue for nonprofits like ours to try to meet that need in a growing area.

What does Philabundance need from the community at this point? Do you need food more or money more, and if so, how much of each?

The answer to that – yes. We need both of them. By contributing money, that allows us to purchase food at a lower cost, so there’s a real benefit to that. We can provide two meals for every dollar. So certainly money is really vital to what we do in our day-to-day operations. But food also helps.

We’ve been in crisis mode for about five years now, so how do you keep going back to your donors and asking them to contribute when the needs keep getting bigger and bigger and the crisis never seems to end?

That’s the message — we see more cuts coming from Washington that hurt our clients. We need to respond as an organization. We’ve been trying to do a lot of innovative new projects that people need, and I think our donors and community have responded to that by being able to contribute more to us. So we’re rather fortunate to have a great donor community here in Philadelphia.

What else should I know about your organization, who you’re serving and what your needs are right now?

The most important thing is if someone finds themselves in need of food, they can call Philabundance’s Food Help Line, which is 1-800-319-Food (3663). That’s the best way to get food assistance if you are in need. That’s always been the most important message for us to be able to get out there. We go based on self-declared need so anybody who comes and asks us for food assistance, we’re there to provide for them.

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