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Suddenly ‘out of a job’ Philadelphians line up for boxes of free food

Noelia Ramírez and her daughter Carmen Arroyo, a factory worker, picked up boxes of free food during the coronavirus shutdowns that have students out of schools and workers unemployed. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Noelia Ramírez and her daughter Carmen Arroyo, a factory worker, picked up boxes of free food during the coronavirus shutdowns that have students out of schools and workers unemployed. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia’s new free food distribution program started Monday at 10 in the morning. But the line to get a box of canned sweet potatoes, beans, and other nonperishable items started much earlier outside one Kensington church.

“Separate a little bit please, in order to be safe, OK?” said pastor Adan Mairena, standing in front of the West Kensington Ministry at the corner of Susquehanna and Hancock street.

People of all ages, including whole families, moved fast through the line. In less than 30 minutes, 200 boxes had been given away by Mairena and Jared Dobkin, food coordinator for Share Food Program, one of the city’s two nonprofit partners.

Hungry residents wait in line to pick up free food from the city Monday at Aspira Charter Stetson in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The church was one of 20 sites where the city, Share, and Philabundance, the city’s other partner, distributed a total of 4,000 boxes on Monday to help residents impacted by the economic crisis created by the coronavirus.

“It’s one box or two?” one woman asked.

“Solo una caja, one box per family,” said Mairena.

200 boxes of free food were given away in ten minutes in Kensington. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The pastor has had a busy week. He lives right next to the church, which means constant work. His church serves the large Latino community living in Kensington, and the neighborhood is a food desert, he said. Last week, he got 500 pounds of food in donations, plus 200 cases of egg and pasta bowls with chicken, ham, sausage. It all went in 24 hours, he said.

“It’s not even 10 o’clock in the morning, we got the shipment in about 20, 30 minutes ago, and it’s already gone,” he said. “It’s just a testament to where we are in terms of necessity, people are hungry.”

The boxes contained non-perishable food like canned sweet potatoes and beans, egg noodles, tuna fish and soy milk. Each box is meant to last one household for five days. People do not need to present an ID or proof of income for eligibility.

Philadelphians in-need can pick-up boxes of free food from the city amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Dione Casillas, who worked as security at the Independence National Historical Park until March 17, said the surge in demand shows the impact of the crisis.

“Anything you can get is helpful for everybody. Because right now it’s harsh … It’s a very, very scary time right now,” she said.

The City of Philadelphia gave away boxes of free food at different sites, for those who lost jobs due to coronavirus shutdowns. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Boxes will be given away every Monday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon at a growing list of sites located in neighborhoods across Philadelphia. On Tuesday, the city will add another 20 sites to the list and starting Thursday, the boxes will include fresh food, like produce and dairy.

Philabundance and Share are expanding the program thanks to donations, including those of volunteers who have given their time to help. On Monday alone, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Sixers Youth Foundation made a six-figure donation to provide 20,000 boxes of food.

The city and school district, along with other partners, are also distributing meals for students at over 80 locations citywide.

Wilfredo Marrero came to Norris Square with his brother to get a box for his family and another one for a neighbor who wasn’t able to leave her home.

“It does help a lot. We’re not working at the moment, and there’s no check coming in for a while, so this is a good helping hand,” he said.

Carmen Arroyo, 40, was a factory worker. Now she’s staying home with her two kids and her boyfriend who has pneumonia but tested negative for COVID-19. She and her mother, Noelia Ramírez, were wearing masks and gloves.

“She’s 67 and she has respiratory problems and heart problems,” Arroyo said of her mother.

“I’m really scared,” said Ramírez.

“We’re out of job right now and, you know, this little bit helps for my kids, to give them a little bit of the food,” Arroyo said. “This will help me stay in the house.”

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