Summer is the hungry time of year, when school breakfasts and lunches are no longer available to children in or near poverty.
That puts an extra strain on food cupboards, carved out of the backrooms of churches and community centers where volunteers distribute everything from ham to cupcakes.
For around 500 local cupboards, their food comes from Share Food Program, a multifaceted antihunger organization headquartered in Hunting Park. On Friday, 30 cupboard operators gathered in the program's warehouse to discuss, among other topics, the coming summer and the expected increase in need.
Presiding was Share’s director, Steveanna Wynn, a legend in the antihunger community and a key weaver of the safety net that stretches, fraying and thin, beneath the poor of Philadelphia.
“Need at cupboards jumps 15 percent in summer,” Wynn said. “Our cupboard coordinators are on the front lines of hunger. They’re extremely resilient and dig deeper within themselves to help people, especially this time of year.”
While the stock market may be booming, Wynn said, people stuck without work or struggling in low-paying jobs are still having trouble surviving.
Making matters worse, said Wynn and others, is the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Fearful to congregate in known areas -- like Home Depot parking lots -- to be chosen for day labor, many undocumented immigrants in Philadelphia are choosing not to work, cupboard leaders said.
The result: “More people need our food pantry to eat,” said Diana Montes, coordinator of the Tabernacle de la Fe food cupboard in Hunting Park. “We’re now dipping into our reserves to make up for the 5 to 10 percent increase in people needing our help.”
In some cases, parents are not showing up for their appointments at the offices of WIC (the federal Women, Infants, and Children food and nutrition service) because they’re afraid immigration agents might grab them and deport them, antihunger experts have said. They choose cupboards instead, with a corresponding depletion of resources.
One of the biggest sources of summer food in Philadelphia is the federally funded Nutritional Development Services summer meals program, supervised by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The program feeds children of all backgrounds in Philadelphia and the surrounding four Pennsylvania counties, said Andrea Brophy, assistant administrator of the summer needs program. Brophy was on hand at the Share meeting.
The NDS program feeds kids at such places as day-care centers, YMCAs, and even the homes of individuals who volunteer to distribute food on their streets.
The program, and summer feeding sites run by the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation, as well as the Philadelphia Housing Authority, are the main sources of food for children 18 and younger in the area.
On average, roughly half the children who eat free and reduced-price lunches in Philadelphia schools avail themselves of summer feeding programs, antihunger advocates say. Cupboards are called on to take up the slack, they add.
The pre-summer-feeding months have “an air of excitement about them as we get ready to roll,” Brophy said. “By the time summer starts, it’s fast and furious. We never rest in the anti-hunger world.”
And regardless of the year, one hard fact is true every summer, Brophy said:
“Not much changes for the poor. We see hunger all the time.”