Biden returns to Philly food bank for MLK Jr. Day volunteering

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Joe Biden made his third pilgrimage to a Philadelphia Food Bank today, performing Martin Luther King Jr. Day “Day of Service” volunteer work at Philabundance.

Newly elected Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker joined Biden. The two walked into the packing area at about 11:44 a.m. and went to work putting produce in boxes that moved along a conveyer belt in an assembly line-style operation involving a couple dozen workers.

Founded in 1984, Philabundance distributes food to families in the region. In addition to the food bank and hunger relief, the non-profit runs a culinary vocational training program for low-income adults interested in culinary-based careers.

President Joe Biden volunteers at Philabundance, a hunger relief organization, to mark Martin Luther King, Jr., day, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, in Philadelphia, with Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker, left. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The president joined the same assembly line in 2021 and 2022. Last year, Biden opted to deliver a sermon at Martin Luther King Jr.’s former church in Atlanta, marking the first time a sitting president had addressed the famed church. First Lady Jill Biden, who joined the president during his prior visits to Philabundance, was absent this time.

As Biden helped load boxes of food destined for those in need, he talked with the volunteer standing next to him, Daniela Wright.

“I was so nervous,” Wright told WHYY News. “I would never in a million years thought I would get the chance to stand next to the president and serve next to him, and for him to affirm and recognize the work that I’m doing and the work that we’re all doing. It was really cool.”

She said he put her at ease talking about his early career as a public defense attorney, which resonated with the law school-bound AmeriCorps volunteer.

“I am a public interest girl all the way,” Wright said with a laugh. “I definitely want to stay in Philadelphia and build a public interest career on the law and possibly work on education policy or something like that. If I could use a JD to affect public policy in a positive way for the kids that I work with every day, that’s all I could ask.”

In addition to AmeriCorps, Wright works with Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a legal nonprofit focusing on adult legal education.

President Joe Biden volunteers at Philabundance, a hunger relief organization, to mark Martin Luther King, Jr., day, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Hunger in America

Today’s volunteers packed 500 boxes Philabundance will deliver around Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey. Volunteers say it’s only a drop in the bucket of the need they see.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Pennsylvania’s poverty rate is around 12%, a tick above the national average of 11.5%. Nearly 23% of Philadelphia’s 1.6 million residents fall under the poverty line. That makes Philadelphia the poorest of the 10 biggest cities in the nation, giving it the label “America’s Poorest Big City.”

That level is based on an annual wage of about $30,000 for a family of four, meaning that far more need the kinds of assistance that Philabundance provides.

Statistics provided by the U.S. Census Bureau do reflect a continuous decline in poverty levels since a high in 2011 of nearly 14% — a decline that lasted through President Obama’s second term, the Trump administration, and Bidens’ first term — though the pandemic years saw an aberrative slight uptick.

Board Chair Dixie James says that the numbers are misleading, however.

“I’ve been with Philabundance since 2015, and during that time we’ve actually seen the need increase,” James told WHYY News. “I think that’s just because people that are food insecure are not what we’ve traditionally thought about. They’re working families that need support from time to time. We are seeing more and more people reach out because they’ve had needs that previously weren’t surfaced.”

She noted that cyclical economic issues such as inflation mean that the need ebbs and flows, but it’s never completely fulfilled.

  • January 15, 2024
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