The executive director of CityTeam Chester discusses the increased stress on those in need.
By Kwinn Tucker
Back in mid-March, no one could find toilet paper. It was a moment of national need, and an equalizer of sorts. Message boards offered reports on which stores had what brands. Personal standards were sacrificed as we were forced to forgo our preferred choice. Fingers were pointed at elusive TP hoarders with stockpiles in their homes.
Suddenly, thanks to COVID-19, a mundane household item became something to worry about and discuss incessantly. It’s not unlike what life resembles for those who consistently worry about access to food. They fear it will run out before they can get more. They can’t afford to eat a balanced meal, and they eat less than they should because they can’t afford more.
When a lack of certainty surrounds a person’s basic needs, it actually stalls development on all human levels, impacting stability in every part of daily living. Finding food can become the primary focus of each day, with the stakes heightened dramatically for those caring for small children.
Things we’re already bad in our hometown. The city of Chester is a classified food desert. CityTeam’s mission is to help our community by meeting needs and offering lasting solutions, and our reach extends throughout the Delaware Valley. For the 32 years we’ve been serving locally, feeding people has remained a core commitment. We serve daily meals to the homeless and host a weekly food outreach, providing fresh produce, protein and pantry items. We also have several transitional residential programs for men, women and families, and a range of programs for parents of young children.
Before the pandemic, CityTeam provided food to a few hundred households every month, impacting about 5,000 individuals each year. When the COVID-19 crisis began, that need increased instantly and dramatically. In one of our busiest times this summer, we handed out more than 700 food boxes in one month.
For households that were already uncertain about where their food would be coming from, life has only become more challenging. For others who once had a steady income and food stability, everything changed swiftly. Many of our neighbors are now scrambling to find what they need, with fewer resources than ever. That stress is visible on the faces of the people we meet each day at CityTeam.
As an organization, our challenges have become greater. We’ve had to limit volunteers and create contact-free distribution. The biggest challenge has been keeping our pantry stocked, as food sourcing is ever changing.
We stand in solidarity with those leading the charge for social change. Our part is to reduce the strain that people experience in their times of need, and to offer hope on their journey forward. In our daily work, we see that what the researchers say is true: If you provide consistent, stabilizing access to resources, the quality of people’s lives improves.
The sense of relief shows on every face, every time.
Kwinn Tucker is executive director of CityTeam Chester, a faith-based nonprofit that offers food, housing, economic empowerment, and career guidance to people in need. Visit cityteam.org/chester.