Fairhill/Kensington: Innovative Food Center Helps City’s Hungriest

Kelly Hile, Director of Direct Services for Philabundance, arranges cans on a shelf at the Community Food Center.


Few  American cities display more tangible signs of poverty than Philadelphia. For most, though, the idea of going hungry is almost unthinkable.

The Community Food Center on Sixth and Lehigh resembles a regular grocery store.

Unfortunately, hunger does happen. A survey released last week by the Food Research and Action Committee named Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District, which includes parts of North and South Philadelphia, the second-hungriest region in the country, with over 36 percent of households not having money to buy enough food.

Upon hearing these results, Philabundance, the region’s largest hunger relief organization, has stepped up its efforts to eradicate hunger from the area. Collecting donated foods at its three warehouses around the city, Philabundance provides direct food relief to the hungry all over the city. To truly solve hunger issues, though, new approaches will need to be taken.

Opened last November and located in the basement of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Lehigh branch, Philabundance’s Community Food Center (CFC), which is located at 601 W. Lehigh Ave.,  is changing the way food gets distributed to those who need it most.

“We know that despite the efforts of the agencies in our network, there are still a lot of people in our service area who need food,” said Kelly Hile, Philabundance’s head of direct operations. “Hopefully, the CFC is just the first one of many to fill in the gaps.”

Kelly Hile, director of Direct Services for Philabundance, arranges cans on a shelf at the Community Food Center.

What separates CFC from Philabundance’s other networks is its choice-based method of distribution. CFC is a mini-grocery store, with food on shelves and in coolers, and clients browse the aisles and pick the food they want to take home. “People come in and shop. It’s all free, but they’re still choosing what they want out of the items that we have.” The food at CFC is donated from Philabundance warehouses.

Hile praises CFC’s new approach. “This model gives people more respect, more dignity, a better atmosphere, and also limits waste, because we don’t just give people things they don’t want that they’re just going to throw away,” she said.

People in need of food only register once, and from there they may visit the CFC once a week. Upon entering, customers are given two baskets and a cart, which they are free to fill with the foods of their choice. Food is weighed and checked out at the end ,although there is no limit, and everything is free.

This ability to choose is what keeps customers coming back to CFC. “It means everything,” said Edward Sparks, an unemployed resident of 11th and Cumberland streets.

“I’m a diabetic. They carry foods that are specified for diabetics . . . so it’s very helpful,” said Priscilla Preston, a senior citizen from North Philadelphia.

Customers at the Community Food Center are free to fill baskets with the foods of their choice.

The CFC will only thrive with a strong volunteer base. “We desperately need volunteers, especially on the days we’re open,” said Tracey McCusker, volunteer coordinator at the CFC. Hile also said that Philabundance hopes to open similar locations in other parts of the city.

Customers hope that people will not be shy in volunteering and that CFC continues to grow in its success.

“This place is a blessing to the neighborhood,” said Sparks. “I’m looking forward to passing it on to someone else.”

The food center is located in the basement of the Lehigh branch of the Philadelphia Free Library at 601 W. Lehigh Ave. It serves the West Kensington and Fairhill neighborhoods from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. For more information on the center, please call 215-229-2221 or visit the Web site at https://www.philabundance.org/programs/cfc.asp