Tons on their plates

Philabundance founder Pamela Rainey Lawler hopes her entity will continue to draw great support from local volunteers as the month unfolds.

Photos by Tina Garceau

More than three decades ago, Pamela Rainey Lawler, finding herself a member of the corporate world, a realm that often ends up saddled with adjectives such as “uncaring,” “selfish,” and “insular,” knew her heart had greater aspirations, leading her to feast on the realization of just how famished many area individuals were. She commenced further research on their plight and responded in 1984 by starting Philabundance. On Sept. 8, she, her peers, and figures from other altruistic entities united at her brainchild’s Hunger Relief Center, 3616 S. Galloway St., to launch a month-long initiative designed to diminish hunger’s rumbling presence in the Delaware Valley.

“I wasn’t in the food industry or social services, but I had to act somehow,” the innovator said of establishing the region’s largest hunger relief organization. “So many years later, we’ve made great gains, but there is still so much more work to do.”

The #PlateItForward campaign is the organization’s latest commitment to addressing this ever- worthwhile battle. Philabundance is striving to raise $20,000 and 10,000 pounds of food to provide 50,000 meals, with the public able to lend a helping hand via donations, advocacy endeavors and volunteer efforts. Amanda White, public relations coordinator for Philabundance, proudly proclaimed last week that Fingerpaint, a marketing innovation agency whose advertisement involvement with national entities has yielded numerous accolades, will match all donations up to $7,500. This will mean that four meals, rather than two, will be possible through each donated dollar.

Rainey Lawler, in the process, will continue to send an important message to those in need.

“I started Philabundance as my personal emergency response to what I was seeing, particularly the disparity between my life as someone who was part of a two-income family and the lives of those who couldn’t escape the pain of not having enough to eat,” she said. “Days like today are incredibly important because we need to collaborate to make this an all-year issue. We talk about hunger near the holidays, but it doesn’t take a break, and neither will we.”

The former Passyunk Square resident commenced last week’s morning gathering as part of Hunger Action Month, with her non-profit teaming with Feeding America, the initiative’s originator, to quell what she sees as a symptom of a much larger problem, poverty, a scourge that many locals must counter. Describing herself as dismayed that more has not occurred nationally to lift people out of their financial doldrums, she feels even more bewildered when pondering statistics regarding the challenges she and her colleagues face.

“”The numbers are appalling,” Rainey Lawler said of the hunger crisis in the Philadelphia area, where 25 percent of people struggle to know how they are going to feed themselves and their loved ones consistently, which is nearly twice the national average. “We often hear about how stricken other countries’ populations are, but domestic hunger is such a daunting issue that needs tireless attention and discussion that leads to action.”

AT LAST WEEK’S event, Philabundance welcomed personnel from the Chester County Food Bank, The Food Trust, The Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, and The Share Food Program to the relief center. The partners have long sought to support the local agency, whose 2015 endowments totaled nearly 30 million pounds of food through neighborhood distribution programs and its network of approximately 350 member agencies in nine Pennsylvania and New Jersey counties. That massive unification of reverence for others still warms the heart of Janice Gomez six years after she needed to rely on help.

“You always hear that life is unpredictable, and back in 2010, that became a reality for me,” the resident of the 400 block of Jackson Street said. “I lost so much of what I had going for me, including my job, so I had to seek many sources of help, including places to look for food. Philabundance was my salvation in many ways, and I’m eternally grateful.”

The Whitman occupant finds herself so appreciative that she intends to volunteer and donate cash to the cause. Her participation, the consideration of other locals, and continued largesse to Philabundance, including a $45,000 Nationwide Foundation grant through Feeding America, which will help it to fund its Fresh For All free produce distributions at nine locations each week, are the boons that state Rep. Donna Bullock hopes #PlateItForward and subsequent drives will foster.

“We know the numbers are staggering, so action is a must,” the 195th district figure said. “Look at the statistics for this city, and you’ll find yourself amazed that there are so many who are going without an absolute necessity.”

The first-term representative, whose district includes parts of North and West Philly, experienced hunger as a child and recalled making soup kitchen trips to a spot in New Brunswick, N.J. She quickly learned that receiving should necessitate giving, so three decades after she needed relief, she is hoping to provide the same sense of hope that has catapulted her to a life as a respected political and communal voice.

“Like Pamela said, it’s great to be giving and considerate during the holidays, but accumulating resources throughout the year is what’s going to cause shifts,” Bullock explained. “Here we are in September, but what about February, for example? What about the job of really striving to eliminate hunger?”

Having been involved with Philabundance for nearly six years, she commends the example of Rainey Lawler, who is a board member for her creation, which serves approximately 90,000 people per week, and vowed to seek legislative and police changes surrounding hunger on the state level. That wide-reaching focus meshes perfectly with what her peer in preventing people from going without sought in establishing the organization.

“There’s so much left to tackle, and we’ve worked hard to look at changing demographics and needs,” Rainey Lawler said in a nod to Philabundance’s outreach, nearly 50 percent of which goes toward helping children and seniors. “We have to keep building awareness and raising funds, and campaigns like this are constant sources of hope.” SPR


Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at

The #PlateItForward campaign will look to 50,000 meals to food insecure individuals throughout the Delaware Valley.

Photo by Tina Garceau

The #PlateItForward campaign will look to 50,000 meals to food insecure individuals throughout the Delaware Valley.

Photo by Tina Garceau