About a year ago when shutdown began, Caring For Friends put out a call to the community – it needed volunteers, and even if they could only donate an hour of their time, it could make a difference.
One year, hundreds of new volunteers and 100,000 meals later, the nonprofit is grateful for those who showed up to help.
For 46 years, Caring For Friends (known as Aid For Friends until 2019) has delivered meals to the homebound and local food pantries across the five-county area. In a typical year 2 million pounds of food pass through its center at 12271 Townsend Road, but since shutdown it’s been significantly more, said executive chairman Vince Schiavone.
With 22 full-time employees and about 10,000 volunteers, most of the work is done by people just looking to help the community.
“Their help can’t be understated,” Schiavone said.
At the beginning of shutdown, longtime volunteers William Fretz, Trish McBride, Danielle Flynn and others stepped up to find more people to come in to help out. The original goal was to have a regular group of people come into the kitchen once a week on Monday nights to jam out to music as they packaged the food.
Because of social distancing and the unexpectedly large number of people who began to come in, that quickly expanded to Monday and Tuesday nights, with a revolving group of about 60 volunteers coming in each week. As the months went on the group became more efficient, and, thanks to that and the help of a new machine, they are able to prepare about 1,800 meals on a typical night, or about $12,600 worth of food.
In the last year, volunteers alone were able to help distribute 100,000 meals to people and communities in need.
Fretz and McBride have been involved with Caring For Friends off and on for more than two decades, with Fretz driving 45 minutes one way to volunteer every Monday and Tuesday night.
“I didn’t know if we’d ever get enough volunteers,” Fretz said of the beginning of the pandemic.
Flynn is a member of Never Surrender Hope, which is a nonprofit organization that drives around the city to provide people experiencing homelessness and addiction with food, supplies and help. The group delivers food from Caring For Friends to around 20 local recovery homes each weekend.
Flynn used her connections to bring other Never Surrender Hope members into the kitchen, as well as individuals from recovery homes looking to give back, and other Northeast Philadelphia residents who would see her social media posts on local neighborhood pages.
Flynn has been volunteering at Caring For Friends for most of her life. Since shutdown, she estimates she brought in a couple hundred volunteers.
In the near future, volunteer John Kirby will begin a new group to come in Wednesday and Thursday nights.
Schiavone’s mother Rita founded the nonprofit in 1974 after she visited a friend who was handicapped and couldn’t cook for herself. Rita would cook seven meals a week and deliver them to her friend and then decided to expand the scope of her mission. It has been located at its 30,000-square foot facility for the last 22 years.
This week, Caring For Friends is showing appreciation for its volunteers each day with activities such as cake and getting signed certificates thanking them for their generosity. They also named 10 award winners, listed below.
Caring Company of the Year: Blue Crew at Independence Blue Cross
Caring Community Organization of the Year: Brothers of Strawberry Mansion
Caring Faith Based Organization of the Year: The Rev. Nancy Jackson and Zion AME Church
Caring Individual of the Year: Christopher Smith
Caring Driver of the Year: Ivan Collier
Caring Visitor of the Year: Joe Palermo
Caring Kitchen Award: Food Friends
Caring Cooking Church of the Year: St. Andrew Episcopal Church of Yardley
Caring School of the Year: St. Joseph’s Preparatory School and Bala Cynwyd Elementary School