KENNETT SQUARE—When an electrical fire destroyed much of the food at the Kennett Area Food Cupboard a week ago, it appeared that many underprivileged families who rely on the service would go hungry.
But then something amazing happened.
The community answered by donating so many gift cards and so much food, that the food has to be stored off site. In fact, the supply of food is so great it will take the organization through the holidays, which typically is the neediest time of year.
“This is the love of humankind,” said Leah Reynolds, executive director of the Kennett Area Food Cupboard. “This is the love that we as the Kennett area community seek to cultivate and grow. It is heartening to see kindness grow out of crisis.”
On Tuesday volunteers helped to sort and pack the food. Many local businesses, including Giant Food Market, Tri-M, West Chester Nursing School and Chemours, sent employees to the Food Cupboard to help out. The Longwood Rotary Club sent a number of volunteers. Individuals also stopped by to lend a helping hand. But there is so much work involved to pack and sort all of the donations, it will take weeks.
“The response we got was incredible,” said Jim O’Neil, a volunteer at the Kennett Area Food Cupboard. “We have schools running food drives who have never run food drives before. And it’s across the board, with businesses, community organizations, schools, individuals, churches helping out.”
Reynolds said it’s the first crisis the organization has experienced. She said what she witnessed n the community response makes her glad to be living and working in the Kennett area.
“Every donation, every act of service is unique and every person is valuable,” Reynolds said. “Every one of these acts of generosity creates our lifeblood, the thing that strengthens us in times of calm and shores us up in future storms.”
The amount of food was simply too much to store at the Kennett Square location on Birch Street. On Tuesday, volunteers brought some of the food to a building in Kennett Square owned by Square Roots Collective, which had been the site of Wings for Success. And food was also brought to the Chester County Food Bank, where it will be stored until there is room at the Kennett facility.
So many people purchased $25 Giant gift cards for the Food Cupboard, the Giant sold out of them a couple of times.
A food drive organized by the Longwood Rotary Club netted 247 pounds of food, plus $300 by members, and $200 from the Longwood Rotary Foundation. The money was used to purchase Giant gift cards.
“This is just another example of what we do for the community,” said Bob Curran, president of the 95-member Longwood Rotary Club. “It’s been amazing, all of this outpouring of support.”
On Tuesday, Reynolds got a call from an elderly woman who said her family had run out of food for their 11-member family, which includes six children. Reynolds said she was able to pick up her food the same day. Without the outpouring of food donations from the community, Reynolds said the Food Cupboard would not have been able to help her.
Last month, the Kennett Food Cupboard served 1,124 people who mostly live well below the poverty line. Some are unable to work due to illness or injury. Some make minimum wage. Some live with other families in the same building.
The average income of a family utilizing the Food Cupboard is $1,855 per month. And 64 households reported no income last year and 174 households rely on just Social Security. Of recipients, 61 percent are Hispanic, 32 percent Caucasian. The majority of participants are working poor - 23 percent are single adults and 20 percent are single parent households; 42 percent are two wage-earner households.
“I don’t know how those thousand people would get fed in October or November of December if it wasn’t for this community,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds has been personally thanking volunteers who are helping out, and people stopping by the Food Cupboard to drop off donations.
“This sort of thing doesn’t happen everywhere,” she said. “This is a special place.”
Repairs from the fire are expected to be completed Thursday, and the Kennett Area Food Cupboard will reopen Friday, Oct. 25 with normal hours.
Last year, nearly $22,000 of fresh meats, dairy and produce were purchased by KACS for quality nutrition. More than 500,00 pounds of food moved through the Food Cupboard, and $915,000 in food donations were received.