Feed the need

Grace Episcopla Church and the Incarnation and PROPAC team up to distribute food to the community during COVID- 19.

Ham it up: Patty-Pat Kozlowski and Anne Pace Paul prepare to hand out fresh produce to the Port Richmond community. PHOTO COURTESY OF PROPAC

Last Thursday, more than 200 hams were handed out to residents in front of Grace Episcopal Church and the Incarnation in Port Richmond.

The hams were free thanks to a donation from Northeast Philly nonprofit Caring for Friends, 12271 Townsend Road.

And, so were the more than 100 gallons of milk distributed last Tuesday by Port Richmond on Patrol and Civic, PROPAC, members and neighborhood volunteers.

Residents observed social distancing guidelines, standing 6 feet apart, and all volunteers wore gloves on their hands and protection on their faces.

What has become a blessing to those out of work during the COVID-19 pandemic came about by chance, according to Anne Pace Paul, who is a member of PROPAC and belongs to Grace Episcopal Church, 2645 E. Venango St.

“I had been taking people around trying to get [the Share Food Program] city boxes,” she said. “And Father Brian said to me, ‘You know one of our members works with Caring for Friends and they make meals for senior citizens.’ It all started by chance. Right place, right time. It just seems to be snowballing.”

Paul reached out to the members at Holy Innocents Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Tacony, the sister parish to Grace Episcopal Church, and physically went to the organization to find out more.

“We’ve been lucky. We’ve been working with Caring for Friends, and they’ve been wonderful for us,” she said. “I told them what PROPAC does, and what our goal is, and they allowed us to sign up. They gave us a day to come up, and they give us whatever they have and however much we can take. They are a great organization.”

The 45-year-old food pantry follows a motto of “caring and sharing,” with the primary focus being volunteers delivering meals to and interacting with homebound and food-insecure senior citizens, with about 10,000 meals served a month, according to Geoffrey Walker, chief operating officer at Caring for Friends.

“We have about 220 churches, pick any denomination and we’re there, that we provide food, including shelf-stable, dairy and meats,” he said. “We provide supplies to the churches, and they distribute it in their own geographic area.”

Donations come from Philabundance, SHARE, Giant, Acme, Walmart and other local organizations and businesses, and are then distributed to partnering churches that come once a week on a schedule for shelf-stable items and as-available food.

“We’ve been inundated with a lot of [fresh food] for the simple reason restaurants are being supplied. And, with the recent Easter holiday, grocery stores had the free ham special, and no one showed up, so we got 10 skids of ham with probably 150 hams on each skid. So, I try to move that,” Walker said.

There’s what Walker calls “an emergency list” of partners that are called to make sure items like the ham don’t go to waste.

“For those of us trying to deal with social problems, we have a lot of opportunities right now,” he said. “When we can do this through these local organizations, the religious, the social, the reality of providing food to their local communities is huge for our community outreach. We’re not out as much to build brand as we are to feed people.”

When Paul gets the call, it’s an all-cars-on-deck drive, including fellow church member Mike Kelly, Paul’s daughter Francine’s boyfriend, Soul Young, and community activity Patty-Pat Kozlowski, to pick up the food and bring it back to Port Richmond.

“Patty has been my ride or die. I call her, and she says, ‘I’ll be right there.’ Our goal is to reach the people who need us right now,” Paul said.

Once the amount of food is determined, calls are made to neighborhood volunteers.

The whole process runs from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with pickup and giveaway included, accounting to Paul.

Because Caring for Friends operates on donations, the availability of items is never guaranteed, but it’s always substantial.

“We’ve had milk, hams, bagged lettuce, onions, potatoes,” Paul said. “The one day we had all-organic fruit and vegetables. We had five pallets of produce. And, we did have some bread. We did have 200 hand-made meals that we gave to the seniors.”

So far, PROPAC has conducted the pop-up food giveaway four times, and Paul estimated at least 500 people were reached through last Thursday’s donations.

“We had extra Share boxes, and we took it to the police department, the firemen. Everything extra we wanted it to go to the first responders,” she said.

The ultimate goal is to create a more permanent and predictable option for the Port Richmond community.

Members at the church, along with the rector, the Rev. Brian G. Rallison, also had been planning to start a food pantry.

“There is food in Philadelphia, but there’s a gap for the working food-insecure individuals. There are people who work 9-5 jobs, but because the food pantries are open on the weekdays, so there’s no place for them to go on the weekends even though there’s a need for that,” Rallison said. “Our first objective was to open a food pantry a couple times a month. But, we have the opportunity to have these little pop-ups. This feeds directly into our ministries to who we believe we are.”

“Our plan had been to open a food pantry, and this all happened so fast that we didn’t have time to think. The food pantry would have a specific day and time that people can come pick up,” Paul added. “The food pantry will come, but we want to help people right now.”

And, while new members are always welcome at the church, meeting people’s needs takes precedence.

“Instead of having this idea of we will browbash you into what we believe you should be doing or preach to you about Jesus, that’s not what we believe what Jesus wanted us to be,” Rallison said. “When people are hungry and starving, they don’t worry about Jesus, they worry about survival. And, if we’re true followers of Jesus, we’re doing this because we believe we need to feed people.”

“What we’re doing right now is us and the church trying to be here right now and help do as much as we can during the COVID situation and people not working and get through this,” Paul said.

Follow PROPAC on Facebook for updates about food giveaways or visit graceincarnation.org/.