Martha Turpin shuffled in and out of well-stocked grocery aisles, putting food she desired into her shopping basket: chicken broth, cheese crackers and frozen meat. It may sound like Turpin was at a suburban Superfresh, but she was actually grocery shopping at the Philabundance Community Food Center at 601 W. Lehigh Ave.
The nonprofit food pantry, which opened in 2009, is a food donations program for low-income citizens that is open on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It differs from other food pantries because the food is not pre-packaged. The food center is the only choice pantry in the city where individuals can pick out food they want from refrigerators and food shelves in a supermarket setting.
Within the first two weeks of opening, the center registered over 1,000 people, and currently serves over 200 households daily. Kendra Mariassy, the manger of the food center, described why a choice pantry is superior to other food donation programs. “It gives somebody more dignity in times of need,” Mariassy said. “They can look over shelves for what they want to eat instead of being given a set box of food.”
The choice pantry donates 20,000 pounds of food each week, and accommodates religious and dietary concerns that are usually not addressed by conventional food donation programs.
Individuals must fill out a registration form to become a customer, but do not have to adhere to any criteria. There are no qualifications to shop at the center; customers can live in any part of Philadelphia and do not have to earn below a certain income. The one restriction is that customers can only shop at the pantry once a week.
The center is run solely by volunteers. CeCe Weber, a volunteer who is recently unemployed, explained why she loves volunteering. “I started working here in April,” Weber said. “I like it because I’m more in contact with people. I’ll stay until they tell me to get out.”
Lisa Santiful, an employee at MedRisk and pantry volunteer, emphasized the benefits of the center. “I like helping people. I like giving back,” Santiful said. “It’s awesome. I’m looking at people getting products and not having to give money out. It’s a blessing. Every neighborhood should have this.”