PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As the holidays approach, 6abc is once again partnering on the region's largest food drive and, with the pandemic, the need this year is greater than ever.
Philabundance is the region's largest hunger-relief organization and Loree Jones, who became the new CEO in early June, says Philabundance distributed more food in the first six months of the pandemic than it did all of last year.
A Philadelphia native and Spelman graduate, Jones started at one of the most challenging times in the history of the organization and the nation.
"We were experiencing political division," said Jones. "We were experiencing a public health crisis like we've never seen before. We've been experiencing the economic crisis that was associated with that and also racial unrest."
Jones says 40% of the people who have turned to Philabundance this year had never before sought help putting food on the table.
"In 2018, there were about 600,000 people that were food insecure," Jones says, "Feeding America is telling us that by next year, that's going to raise to 835,000 people."
Philabundance's ability to meet the increased demand was challenged by the coronavirus and the increased risk it posed to seniors.
"The reality is that so many people that volunteered for us were themselves, seniors," said Jones. "We had to be nimble; we had to pivot."
The agency is using fewer volunteers, imposing strict safety protocols, and changing the way they get food to those in need.
"And what's really amazing about the people in this region, they're so incredibly generous," Jones says, indicating donations this year are actually up. Jones says she's seen adults donate their stimulus checks, and little children dig into their piggy banks to help their neighbors in need.
That empathy, she says, is the recognition that people in need are experiencing due to no fault of their own.
As someone raised on the idea of community service and giving back, Jones adds, "I'm not sure how you could sit around and not step in and help."
Jones says the heightened need is expected to continue through 2021. If you'd like to help, there are many ways to connect, share, and give.
New Philabundance chief sees dramatic increase in need due to COVID-19