WEST CHESTER — Although the inflation rate in the United States fell to 0.6% to 8.5% in July from 9.1% in June, the cost of everyday food continues to rise.
The consumer price index for food available at grocery stores rose 1.4% in July from June, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. Additionally, grocery store food prices were 13.1% higher last July compared to July 2021 a year earlier.
Since January, the number of older people in Chester County turning to charities for food has increased 25-33% from a year ago, as previously reported.
However, for many older people living in West Chester, that number is even higher.
Kathy Sullivan, executive director of the West Chester Area Senior Center on East Union Street, has witnessed firsthand a dramatic increase in the number of elderly people looking for food.
“While we are all well aware of the drastic rise in prices for so many basic necessities this year, seniors are particularly affected by our current financial climate,” Sullivan said. “With rising gas and rent prices, seniors often feel compelled to make the decision to compromise other important necessities like medicine and food in order to pay their bills.”
In 2019, the center provided daily breakfast and lunch, serving 28,500 meals, Sullivan said.
Then everything changed.
“As the pandemic dragged on for all of us, the number of older people who needed food was continually increasing,” she said.
In the spring of 2020, the center provided food to over 700 seniors each week. Between 2020 and 2021, the center distributed 260,000 meals, she said.
“Our very small staff could never have done this without our Board of Directors and so many volunteers who showed up each week to receive, sort, pack, store, move and safely distribute the food – and they have done with us whether it’s 10 degrees, 100 degrees, or even pouring rain,” Sullivan said.
An independent, non-profit organization, the West Chester Area Senior Center’s mission is to enrich the lives of senior neighbors through friendship, activities, education and food.
Sullivan described the center as vibrant and friendly.
“We’re kind of the ‘where everyone knows your name’ hub of activity for people 60 and over in our great community,” she said.
Despite being closed in 2020, the center for the elderly has never stopped disturbing the food of the hungry.
“We immediately implemented our ‘Emergency Drive-Through Feeding Program’ for seniors,” Sullivan said.
And to meet the huge increase in demand, the center quickly teamed up with new friends, including local businesses from Carlino’s to Kildare’s and Arianna’s.
In addition, Sullivan acknowledged the support of Westminster Presbyterian Church, many other local businesses, and “F4” or Food For Friends of Fiorenza and the center’s board.
The West Chester Area Senior Center offers breakfast and lunch, served Monday through Friday, for adults 60 and over.
They can save money on food and “also enjoy the socialization that our welcoming and friendly center provides every day,” Sullivan said. “Continental breakfast is free for registered seniors.
In conjunction with the Chester County Department of Aging Services, lunch is available on weekdays for those 60 and older for a voluntary donation of $2 per day, she said.
Beginning in 2021, the center transformed its computer room into a new Corner Cabinet food distribution area on site. Last September, the center launched a drive-in from the Corner Cabinet to distribute food, which remained operational until March.
Last spring, in April, the Corner Cabinet opened for indoor shopping.
“Our corner cupboard is now the main hub for our busy weekly food distribution program that serves more than 300 seniors each month, providing them with an average of more than 40 pounds of food per week,” Sullivan said.
The cabinet is open to registered seniors every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Seniors can choose fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and dairy products, frozen convenience foods, local restaurant and catering meals, shelf-stable items, personal and household items, and other essentials . People can also collect a monthly dog and cat food allowance.
The corner cabinet, which cost $80,000, includes additional refrigerators and freezers as well as heavy-duty mobile shopping carts donated by O’Rourke Steel to hold the thousands of pounds of dry goods.
Sullivan said she meets regularly with the nonprofit’s board of directors and works closely with them.
“Over the past two years, our many conversations always came back to the rising cost of living and the ever-increasing food needs of seniors in our community,” she said.
Part of the answer to that call was the creation of the new corner cabinet.
People can also help by becoming volunteers.
“We’re always working to do something special for the big holidays and regularly need help as busy volunteers have ever-changing schedules and responsibilities, so we always have room for more,” Sullivan said. .
Additionally, businesses and individuals can support the center by donating to its upcoming Homecoming Night to celebrate recent successes and a strong return to being the premier center for activity, nutrition, health , lifelong learning and friendship for elders in our community,” Sullivan said. .
“Especially in these past two most challenging years for all of us, the board and staff of our West Chester area senior center have been continually reminded of how lucky we are to live and work in this particular community,” Sullivan said.
“The outpouring of immediate support and generosity in the spring of 2020 and the one that continues every week now to help our center help our many seniors absolutely amazes us,” she said.