Homeless, unemployed line up around the block for collaborative food pantry

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By KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — As hundreds of thousands of people started to apply for unemployment benefits due to the coronavirus pandemic back in March, a collective of nonprofits, caterers and philanthropists quite literally stepped up to the plate.

The collaborative effort to feed the homeless and others in need, aptly called Step Up to the Plate, has been gaining a lot of momentum in Philadelphia over the past several weeks. 

“Every day now, over 2,500 people are getting fed, and the meals are being prepared by some of our best restaurants and caterers in the region,” said Broad Street Ministry Executive Director Mike Dahl. “And their workers are getting to stay employed as well.”

Other members of Step Up to the Plate include Project HOME, Prevention Point, and the newest partner, SEAMAAC. The organization, which serves immigrants and refugees, just opened a hub outside Francis Scott Key Elementary School in South Philly. 

It didn’t take long for word to spread throughout the neighborhood, said SEAMAAC CEO Thoai Nguyen.

“We start at 11:30, and on a good day they’re lined up at 10 o’clock,” he said. “One or two days last week, the line wrapped around three city blocks already by 10:30.”

Paulette Pailin stops by every now and then.

“When I come from therapy and I come past and see — yeah, I’ll stop. And I’ll be honest, if I see someone who’s in need of it more than me, I would give it to him,” she said.

Meals and foodstuffs are also served at the north apron of City Hall, and a parking lot at the intersection of East Clearfield and Ruth streets in Kensington. All three hubs are open from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Nguyen said he sees the hunger relief effort as part of a broader goal of social and economic justice.

“The pandemic is just a magnification of all the poverty, all the generational poverty, all the scarcity that the wealthy have tried to make the poor and the working-class people believe that there is such a thing as scarcity in this country,” he said. “We’re the richest nation on Earth and for someone like Jeff Bezos — a trillionaire who actually has made more money during the pandemic than ever — to give next to nothing and then tell us there’s an issue of scarcity in this country, that’s just ridiculous to me.”