By Jan Carabeo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Before the pandemic, one organization in Northeast Philly provided food banks in the area with 400,000 pounds of food a year. After the pandemic, that amount has soared to 12 million pounds of food a year.

The assembly line at Caring for Friends in Northeast Philadelphia is busier than ever these days. Volunteers like Anthony and Arlene Urbanski are ready to deliver healthy meals to families that need a little help.

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Anthony and Arlene Urbanski

“We have clients that we deliver to, hundreds over the years,” volunteer Anthony Urbanski said.

“I don’t think anyone should need to be lonely and have to worry about where their next meal is coming from,” volunteer Arlene Urbanski said.

The Urbanskis have volunteered with Caring for Friends since its inception nearly 50 years ago.

Back then the organization was known as “Aid for Friends.” It was started by Rita Ungaro-Schiavone at the stove in her own kitchen. Before eating dinner she’d set aside part of her meal for a friend in need.

Rita Ungaro-Schiavone

“What one woman can start, many other families have helped her grow,” Caring for Friends CEO Vince Schiavone said.

Vince Schiavone is now keeping his mother’s mission alive.

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Caring for Friends provides food to more than 200 pantries across five counties. And thousands of volunteers also deliver homecooked meals to homebound seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities.

But the pandemic has made keeping up with a ballooning demand nearly impossible.

‘The seniors, we went from taking care of 1,500, seven meals a week, to over 30,000,” Vince Schiavone said. “Coming out of COVID in some ways it’s worse because some of the funding from COVID has disappeared. And with inflation, it’s like a perfect storm. All of our costs have gone up.”

Including fuel and transportation. The cost of getting truckloads of donated food to the warehouse has skyrocketed.

“The trucking, which used to cost us $500 to $800 is now costing $3000 to $4000 to bring that in,” Vince Schiavone said.

But that’s not all, Caring for Friends needs more volunteers, too. Especially in the kitchen, to help cook much-needed protein-based meals.

“People who now – especially due to inflation – are on the edge. It’s hard to provide dinner or protein for their family,” Vince Schiavone said. “In April, we’re going to add 100,000 family meals. Casseroles with protein of beef and chicken.”

And of course, volunteers are still needed today to do what Rita did in the very beginning.

“People can volunteer in their home by making meals, making snack bags, writing cards. They can volunteer at their business by having us come in and we’ll design a program. Or they can volunteer here,” Vince Schiavone said.

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There are so many ways you can help. Not only through food donations and donating your time, but you can also make a cash donation by visiting caringforfriends.org.