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Citizen of the Week: Piseitta Arrington

The Northeast Philly resident has been donating food to hungry Community College of Philadelphia students since January. Now, she’s offering free meals to a different population: those in need because of coronavirus

Citizen of the Week: Piseitta Arrington

The Northeast Philly resident has been donating food to hungry Community College of Philadelphia students since January. Now, she’s offering free meals to a different population: those in need because of coronavirus

Every week since January, Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) staff member Piseitta Arrington has had the same routine. She picks up 65 pounds of food from the Caring for Friends donation center, drives it to CCP’s Center City campus and distributes it on a first-come-first-serve basis to students.

But when the school shut down due to the spread of Covid-19, Arrington found herself unsure of what to do with her weekly order of food. “When I picked up my order and I brought it home and stored the food that night, I tossed and turned because I knew I had to give out this food and I was thinking who could I give this food to,” she says. “Then a light bulb went off.”

In the morning, Arrington decided to set up a temporary food pantry outside of Do Somethingher Fox Chase home for people who are facing unemployment or otherwise struggling to feed themselves and their families during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I knew I could not get in touch with anyone to set-up the food pantry in front of their facilities so I did it in front of my house,” she says.

Arrington gathered a few volunteers and they set up a sign on a nearby street to point people towards her house on Tabor Avenue. As cars passed by they held up a sign that read “free food” in capital letters. She also went live on Facebook and contacted an anchor at NBC10 to help get the word out. Soon, people were driving by to pick up food. Others stopped and applauded Arrington or honked their horns in support.

“We all should unite and want to pull together in the times of need and that time is definitely now,” Arrington says.

“My heart was so filled because I was able to help people that were struggling due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” she says. “People [kept] telling me they got laid off from their jobs. The stories were so touching.”

Covid-19 is putting a strain on many families that are already struggling with food insecurity in Philadelphia, where 21 percent of residents experience hunger during the year, according to a Philabundance report. In parts of North and Northeast Philadelphia, where Arrington is running her temporary food pantry, that number jumps to 30 percent.

With schools, daycares and other resources shut down because of the coronavirus, that situation is bound to keep getting worse. An American Journal of Public Health paper estimates that just three days of school closures in Philly results in 400,000 missed meals. (The School District and the City have set up food distribution centers at schools and in neighborhoods.)

Meanwhile, as people panic over Covid-19, stores have been emptied of everything from non-perishable foods to toilet paper, making it even harder for those facing food insecurity to get the supplies they need.

The issue has become so serious that some Philly supermarkets, including local Acmes, Costcos and ShopRites, have limited the amount of non-perishable food items consumers can buy.

Jumping in to fill this need is a steep task. But Arrington isn’t one to back away from helping those in need.

Custom HaloIn 2013, she heard from women at Community College of Philadelphia—where she works in the Office of Clubs and Organizations—that they were struggling with issues of homelessness and food insecurity. In fact, a 2016 study found that 56 percent of students at the CCP experience food insecurity.

Arrington was deeply upset by the stories she heard from the students and knew that she wanted to do something to help them. “Working at the college, [I was] hearing so many stories of how these young ladies at the college as students were struggling,” says Arrington, who with a few volunteers donates food and supplies to women and children facing homelessness. “I wished I had a house to house some of these ladies that were struggling.”

Arrington started a nonprofit, Sisterhood for Women in Motion, and partnered with a shelter in her hometown, Chester, Pennsylvania, to help support the women and children staying there by throwing Easter and Mother’s Day parties for them and donating essential supplies, including toaster ovens and microwaves to the women.

Two weeks ago, they partnered with the Refuge Church in Chester to serve food to 42 families. Through the group, Arrington and a few volunteers donate food and supplies to women and children facing homelessness.

“My heart was so filled because I was able to help people that were struggling due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” she says. “People [kept] telling me they got laid off from their jobs. The stories were so touching.”

Since January, Arrington has partnered with Caring for Friends, a Philadelphia food pantry that allows organizations to order and distribute boxes of food to those in need, to bring a weekly order of breakfast bags and boxed meals to distribute to CCP students. That’s what she had in her kitchen when the school announced it was closing for the coronavirus.

On March 18, when she initially set up the food pantry outside her home, Arrington fed 32 families. Since then, she’s served 18 more families with food donated from others, including a woman who brought leftover food from an Archdiocese giveaway for Arrington to distribute.

Last week, Arrington received another shipment of food which a neighbor picked up for her and helped her distribute to the seniors in their community.

She plans to keep using her weekly Caring for Friends orders to feed hungry Read MorePhiladelphians throughout the Covid-19 crisis—and, she says, she plans to join Caring for Friends as a volunteer cook when she retires. “No one should be hungry,” she says. “I plan on collecting food as long as God keeps me in good health.”

In the meantime, Arringron says, she knows the need—for volunteers, donations, and serving food—is everywhere right now.

“There are plenty of nonprofits that are looking for volunteers, so reach out to them. Share some of your time to help the people in need or think of ways that you can give to help your community on your own,” she says. “We all should unite and want to pull together in times of need—and that time is definitely now.”

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