Perseverance for Philly Buyers

Supporting Those Who Support Others

PWPM gives an extra hand to charities working overtime to help people in crisis.

The COVID crisis highlighted an even greater need for the many food banks and charities that have long sourced from the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market (PWPM). “The role of non-profits distributing fresh produce to the masses is more important now than ever,” says Tracie Levin, general manager at M. Levin and Co. “People who never before thought they would need help getting food on their tables have come forward and said they need help.”

RJ Durante, sales and director of food safety at Nardella, highlights their commitment to working with food banks. “There are a lot of organizations working with us to repurpose and repackage produce to hand out,” he says. “We are focused on not wasting anything. Food waste is a real tragedy. There is always a mouth to feed and always someone who should be able to take it and do something with it.”

Yet, in the greatest time of need, these food banks and charities faced great challenges. “Charities were overwhelmed by demand,” says Mike Maxwell, president of Procacci Brothers Sales Corporation. “They were having a tough time with labor because they didn’t have the volunteers. They were able to get funding from federal government to be able to hire workers. They’ve all been overworked and underappreciated.”

During this time, PWPM and its companies stepped up to help these crucial organizations. “We continue to donate fresh produce items to those in need, and if they can’t come to us, we go to them,” says Levin. “It is important to realize that now is the time to help those less fortunate than we are.”

PWPM’s biggest charitable partner is Philabundance. “When the pandemic hit, they could no longer physically bring volunteers into the market each week to glean fruit and vegetables,” says Mark Smith, PWPM general manager. “That was a huge hit to their supply of fresh produce. Their diminished presence was a big disadvantage. So, we implemented workarounds, such as encouraging them to solicit the merchants each Tuesday for excess produce and allowing them to bring in refrigerated trucks on Wednesday mornings. We designated a spot in the market where they could sort what was usable.”

Smith reports seeing an uptick in other community organizations needing help. “We offered boxes of produce to various community events,” he says. “Blessings of Hope, for example, has been a huge recipient of produce recently.”

The USDA AMS Farmers to Families Food Box Program is another example of how the merchants at the PWPM are helping feed the needy. According to Smith, three PWPM companies (TMK, John Vena Inc. and Feeding PA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Cooperative) have won contracts to produce boxes each month.

The Farmers to Families program helped T.M. Kovacevich (TMK) offset some of the loss of foodservice business. “It’s been a win-win-win,” says Tom Kovacevich, TMK general manager. “A win for growers, a win for distributors and a win for the hungry. USDA reports over 50 million cases purchased since June 1.”