Food Pantry Grocery Hybrid Raises Concerns in Pa.

March 14, 2011; Source: Delaware County Times | Like many poor cities, Chester, Pa. hasn't had a "full-fledged grocery store" in the city limits for the past decade. Philabundance, the largest nonprofit hunger relief organization in the metropolitan Philadelphia area, has proposed to develop a hybrid food pantry and low-cost grocery store to help remedy the problem. The city is prepared to put $100,000 in unspent Community Development Block Grants toward the $2.5 million project.

The idea has stirred up a hornet's nest of concerns from the dozen or so food pantries already operating in Chester. Unlike typical food pantries, the Philabundance center would provide fresh fruits and vegetables and household staples. Some of the existing pantries think that they already provide sufficient assistance to the 36,000 residents of the city and the money would be better used for other purposes.

Sister Sandra Lyons of the Bernadine Center told the Delaware County Times that the existing pantries serve 45 percent of Chester's residents. Lyons thinks Philabundance would be a duplication of food pantry services in the small city. Philabundance says that only 10 to 20 percent of the food in the facility would be a food pantry-type of service, but Lyons contends that because of Philabundance's size, "their 10-20 percent could be our 100 percent."

Lyons appears to be especially vocal because her Bernadine Center is located close to the proposed Philabundance site. The concerns aren't limited to the food pantries. A member of the Chester Community Grocery Co-op, questioned why an "outside organization" could get Chester funding that Chester organizations might have wanted to use.—Rick Cohen