The biblical passage, “The harvest is great, but the laborers are few” applies literally in the case of Caring for Friends (formerly Aid for Friends).
The Northeast Philadelphia-based outreach organization has tons of food to be distributed to the homebound and the poor. But it urgently needs more volunteers to help prepare, pack and deliver the food at this time when the coronavirus is ravaging the country — and the need is indeed great.
Part of the challenge is many of their traditional volunteers are senior citizens themselves, the very group that are at the greatest risk from the virus and should not be going out to volunteer anywhere.
”We need young healthy volunteers,” said Vincent Schiavone, chief executive at Caring for Friends which was founded as as Aid for Friends by his late mother, Rita Ungaro Schiavone, 45 years and 15 million meals ago.
In the early years it was a relatively simple operation. Volunteer cooks, usually parish based, would prepare nourishing meals that would be picked up at their parish, delivered to the Northeast Philadelphia site, then delivered weekly to the homebound and those with disabilities due to illness or age.
Just as important as the food was the companionship provided by the visitors.
Over the years the practice has evolved, but visitation is still key to Caring for Friends.
“We changed the name because caring is important,” Schiavone said, and caring can take many forms.
In addition to the home visitations, the today organization helps to supply approximately 150 regional food cupboards that serve the poor.
The one thing that has especially changed in this current coronavirus pandemic is the needs now go far beyond frail and elderly people. With the shut-down of many organizations and businesses, including restaurants, many people have been at least temporarily laid off by employers.
And a vast number of them are low wage-earners, living paycheck to paycheck.
Add to this the many working mothers and other caregivers forced to stay home because of dependent children who are not in schools, which also have been closed.
“We need volunteers to make up meals for seniors, take food to the homeless, to kids in need and to take food trays to those who need them,” Schiavone said. “This is not just for the homebound but the working poor.”
Last year, Caring for Friends distributed 1.5 million pounds of food and this year the need is much greater. “We can handle perhaps three to four million pounds,” Schiavone said.
Another part of the problem is that in recent years many of the volunteers have come from corporate America, still receiving a salary while they volunteer. But as many of industries have shut down during the crisis, that source too has dried up as employees are working from home.
At this point, Caring for Friends doesn’t so much need food donations because it has tons on hand. What it does need is volunteers on hand and also money for the packaging, refrigeration, trucks and gasoline which all come at a cost.
If you can’t volunteer and aren’t financially impacted by this real emergency, a check would help. Caring for friends can be done in many ways.
To volunteer or donate, contact Caring for Friends at CaringForFriends.org or call 215-464-2224.
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