By Kyle Krajewski
It was back in the 1980s when Glenn Bergman, current Executive Director of Philabundance, became familiar with the food bank. After graduating from Temple University with a degree in Public Health, he spent some time working in restaurants, where he initially met Pam Lawler, Philabundance’s founder.
“I didn’t know her that well,” he said, “but she was the only one in town that you could call and they would arrive at an off-premise site or at your restaurant and handle the leftover food and haul it off to a shelter or a pantry.”
It’s something Bergman notes was particularly intriguing to him because of the fact that, prior to this, these types of restaurants and other sources of food had to be a bit more proactive as far as seeking out places to donate their excess product.
Fast-forward 30-plus years and, not only is the scale of Philabundance obviously much larger, but Bergman finds himself in his sixth month of being a large part of the organization with which he once had a brief familiarity.
“We have some really smart people here who have been involved in this fight to drive hunger from our communities and who have set a goal of ending hunger in the region forever,” he says of his new gig. “My role is to help make that happen in any way that I can by collaborating with those who are involved in the same type of fight and struggle to support people who deal with food insecurity.”
Food insecurity, Bergman clarified, is not something solely faced by those who are unemployed or even just by those who are homeless. Food insecurity is something that affects about 750,000 people each year in the nine-county area Philabundance serves—many are hardworking people who are not being paid enough to cover all of their expenses like rent and utilities, or seniors on a fixed income. His goal is to, at least, get food (preferably healthy food) to these people in need, which will hopefully help them make ends meet.
Every dollar spent with Philabundance provides about two meals in food product. That’s an incredible return. In their $13.5 million annual budget, the organization is able to move 30 million pounds of food to those who need it.
But it’s not even creating this vast amount of efficiency and productivity over these communities that has particularly humbled and inspired Bergman over the past six months. It’s the people, the volunteers, and the donors that he works with on a daily basis that help him in doing so.
“We’re providing a service for the community where people are engaged.”
“What inspires me is the number of people that are involved in this,” he told us. “You’re humbled every day by the people that give you funds or support you.“
The personality and general values Bergman gets to see in people on a daily basis wasn’t even necessarily something he was expecting to be overwhelmed with back in June.
“Something that I was not aware of was how involved [our drivers] are,” he said, “and how important they are as our ambassadors in the community and how engaged they are with this.”
Just recently, Bergman had the pleasure of hearing about a driver who delivered food in his own community, welcomed by the hugs and cheers of his neighbors for his efforts.
“He said to me that it brings him joy to really help his neighbors. This guy is great,” Bergman said. “He can get a truck driving job anywhere. He can drive long-haul trucks, he can drive trucks for a lot of different people but he likes what he’s doing here because of the mission.”
The same goes for the farmers. When they can’t sell a product like, say, cucumbers, they could easily turn it back into their soil. But they continue to donate what they have; they continue to haul tens of thousands of cucumbers to Philabundance’s door.
Thousands of people contribute to the cause. People donating checks, holding fundraisers, or volunteering as laborers. The people are what make it really special for Bergman.
“It’s very humbling to have that kind of support as opposed to a government program where it’s just a program waiting for that large check that lets you do the program and then you report on it,” he said. “What we’re doing is we’re providing a service for the community where people are engaged.”
The 20,000 volunteers that come through the door every year help Bergman and Philabundance save about $2 million annually on labor expenses. While that turnout is tremendous, there are always ways to improve in the fight to end food insecurity in the region entirely.
Philabundance would like to remind us that while the holiday season of giving may be over, hunger is not. This is an issue 365 days of the year and the effort to combat it will always welcome your support with open arms.