As he delivers canned goods and other staples to archdiocesan food pantries, Don Devlin can see the impact of the coronavirus firsthand.
“I’m seeing longer lines of clients,” said Devlin, a driver for archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services (NDS). “And the people who used to donate to the food cupboards are now in those lines.”
A member of St. Bernard Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, Devlin joined NDS in 2017 after some 20 years as a warehouse manager for an importer.
Each weekday, he distributes supplies from NDS’s Community Food Program to more than 40 cupboards supported by the agency, while also making on-call emergency deliveries.
A beneficiary of the Catholic Charities Appeal (CCA), NDS has been stocking food pantries and serving millions of federally funded meals for four decades.
But even experienced NDS staff have never seen such a rapid spike in demand.
“Our numbers have definitely increased since March 16,” said Denise Hopkins, director of the NDS Community Food Program. “We have many new people that we’ve never dealt with before who are reaching out to us now.”
Hopkins said she was “so grateful” for Devlin, “who is willing to go out every day and make it happen.”
Food service workers and drivers have found themselves on the front lines of the pandemic, risking exposure to the highly contagious virus as they keep vital supply chains intact. On March 20, thousands of Instacart employees, as well as approximately 100 Amazon workers, went on strike to protest wage and safety concerns.
For his part, Devlin remains steadfast while “taking all the precautions the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommends,” relying on social distancing, gloves and a face mask — as well as his deeply held faith.
“This is a dream job for me, and I feel it was destined for me,” he said. “I’m inspired by the dedicated volunteers, the religious sisters, the priests I see sharing hope and compassion to people in need. That motivates me to do what I do every day.”
Food pantry managers on his routes have stressed the need for volunteers, particularly those who are young, Devlin said.
“A lot of the volunteers at the pantries are senior citizens themselves,” he said, noting that older adults are at greater risk of dying from the coronavirus.
With the increase in clients, donations to the food pantries are “more important than ever,” he added.
“We need non-perishable items to keep food flowing into the cupboards,” said Devlin. “Pastas, sauces, mac and cheese, beans, canned chicken and tuna.”
For those unable to shop, “there are many ways to give,” he said, including charitable gifts to NDS, the Catholic Charities Appeal and the annual Rice Bowl initiative sponsored by Catholic Relief Services.
Devlin and his NDS co-workers regard the food cupboards’ staff and clients as their extended family.
“To be honest, I really don’t have any fear going about my everyday route,” he said. “These people really need us. The time is now to make a difference.”
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