Archbishop Nelson Pérez joined dozens of archdiocesan staff and volunteers last weekend in distributing food to area families, a now-regular outreach that continues as the pandemic enters its second year.
Archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services (NDS) sponsored the March 20 drive-through event, which took place at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, adjacent to the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.
(View photos from the March 20 food distribution organized by archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services.)
Through the “Farmers to Families” program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), NDS secured approximately 590 food boxes containing milk, meat cheeses and vegetables. In addition, some 750 federally funded student meal boxes, filled with seven days’ worth of breakfast and lunch, were available.
The student meals represent “stability” amid a tumultuous time, especially in “communities of color,” said NDS trainer Brenda Austin.
“The parents are struggling, so of course that passes down to the kids,” she said. “But the one thing they know is that their children will be able to get a fulfilling meal, and that makes a difference.”
While other recent giveaways have drawn traffic-snarling crowds, last weekend’s lighter turnout could be attributed to the latest round of stimulus checks, said NDS executive director Lizanne Hagedorn.
However, she noted, “once that stimulus money goes to other expenses that (recipients) have, there will continue to be a need” for emergency food assistance “well into the summer.”
NDS is prepared to respond to extended demand for aid, Hagedorn said.
The Farmers to Families boxes “will continue through April,” she said, adding that she and her staff are exploring ways to offer “fresh produce in area neighborhoods” as the weather gets warmer.
Throughout the pandemic, NDS staff and volunteers — many of whom are former NDS employees – have been “dedicated and relentless,” said archdiocesan secretary for Catholic Human Services James Amato.
“They’ve been able to provide food in very nontraditional ways, and do so every day,” he said.
For volunteer Christine Layden, a member of St. Ephrem Parish in Bensalem, the March 20 distribution (her third) was simply “a good Lenten thing” that helped her “to focus on somebody else.”
West Chester youth Alex Tuinstra, who along with his father helped to load boxes into clients’ cars, said the Saturday morning effort was a welcome change from sleeping in on the weekend.
“It’s a different kind of refreshing,” he said.
Having participated in three previous giveaways, he observed that based on the vehicles in line, households from a variety of income levels were seeking assistance.
“I don’t think I could pick out a person that would come here,” he said. “It’s such a wide range.”
“This is a tough time for families,” said Archbishop Pérez. “And this is an example of all these staff, volunteers and agencies coming together to put food on families’ tables. It is the Gospel. It is what we Christians do.”
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