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North Philly is home to one of DoorDash’s busiest pickup spots in the world

Alfred Lubrano, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Senior Living Features

PHILADELPHIA -- In the parking lot of the Share Food Program warehouse in Phildadelphia's Hunting Park neighborhood, stacks of food boxes marked for low-income area seniors were being loaded into the cars of drivers for DoorDash, the online food-ordering and delivery service.

After one car was filled, the next one rolled up, the operation rapid and crisp outside the food bank, one of the two largest in the region, along with Philabundance.

When it was over in about two hours, more than 500 of the 32-pound senior boxes had been dispatched to older people in need in Philadelphia, Montgomery, and Chester Counties. Share does such distributions on Fridays and Saturdays.

It sends out more than 1,000 deliveries of food boxes via the DoorDash app over twice a week, over two hours on each day — averaging around 4,500 a month.

That earns Share a unique distinction: During the four weekly hours it’s giving out senior boxes, Share handles a greater number of delivery orders than any store or restaurant in the world on the DoorDash app, according to DoorDash executives.

That includes more than 400,000 stores and restaurants in 7,000 cities throughout 25 countries, according to figures from DoorDash executives, as well as from delivery-industry experts.

“It’s a pretty incredible what Share has developed,” said Daniel Riff, a DoorDash senior manager. “They have a remarkable pickup operation.”

Share has an additional distinction: an ability “to adjust volume to acute needs,” according to Keith Fernandez, another DoorDash senior manager.

During the food bank’s largest distribution days, such as last Nov. 17 and 18 — the Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving — Share had ratcheted up its senior-box delivery schedule and “fulfilled more orders for its clients than any individual restaurant on [the] DoorDash …[app], globally, for the entire two days,” Fernandez added. He didn’t offer specific numbers.

According to industry figures, DoorDash, at more than 60% of the market, is the largest online food-delivery service in the United States.

“From our perspective,” said George Matysik, Share’s executive director, “if somebody of means can order food to get to their doorstep, somebody without means should be able to also.”

Growing need

Eligible seniors receive one box a month via DoorDash. Inside are juice, cereal, canned goods, and other shelf-stable food purchased by the federal government. Deliveries also include cheese.

Seniors can sign up for the Senior Food Box Program through mail-in application, over the phone with Share, or on Share’s website. Some people are signed up via caseworkers or family members.

Share executives realized that older Philadelphians in need had a hard time picking up and transporting the heavy senior boxes themselves, and many simply didn’t take them. Or, seniors were too embarrassed to queue up and wait to be handed food. Others didn’t know they were eligible. DoorDash was utilized to fill in the gaps, executives say.

Share’s DoorDash deliveries have increased 300% since 2022 because of growing need, a Share spokesperson said.

DoorDash began making senior-box deliveries for Share and nine other Pennsylvania food banks in 2021, according to Sheila Christopher, executive director of Hunger-Free Pennsylvania. The nonprofit, headquartered in the Pittsburgh area, is a statewide network of food banks and charitable organizations.

The organization pays DoorDash $450,000 a year for 8,000 statewide deliveries per month, underwritten by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Christopher said. More than half of the state’s deliveries originate at Share. Philabundance uses DoorDash for around 100 monthly deliveries; it relies on its own trucks to move food out, Christopher said.

 

DoorDash offers a discounted fee to Hunger-Free Pennsylvania, and makes no profit from the partnership, DoorDash executives said.

“You pay DoorDash $8 to bring you a McDonald’s burger,” Christopher said. “They charge us only $4.50 per senior box, part of its charitable program.

“It’s a lifesaver, enabling us to bring food to seniors’ doors. Before DoorDash, we were under-serving seniors by thousands, and they were really struggling to get food.

“DoorDash pretty much saved the senior-box program in Pennsylvania.”

‘I came from starvation’

On Feb. 23, around 40 DoorDashers waited in their cars for Camille Carr, home-delivery program coordinator, to give them the go-ahead to enter the parking lot and load senior boxes.

“How are you today?” she greeted the drivers, many of whom speak only Spanish. Summoned by notifications on their smartphones by the same method they use to pick up meals from restaurants, a few drivers didn’t know what they’d be getting at Share.

But Frely Garo was an old hand at this. “This pickup is good for me for the money,” said Garo, 37 of Northeast Philadelphia as he loaded his Red Toyota hybrid with boxes. Most drivers take 10 boxes, but Garo was pushing in 20. “I’ve been doing this a long time,” he added, saying he likes “helping older folks.”

There was some discrepancy about how much drivers make. Some sources say they earn $2 a box from DoorDash, while others indicate it’s $5. DoorDash won’t discuss driver compensation.

Later that morning, people like Bela Hauser, 82, of Northeast Philadelphia, received their food.

“It comes right to my doorstep,” said Hauser, a widow who immigrated from Eastern Europe 60 years ago and now lives on a low, fixed income. “I benefit from these boxes.

“I came from starvation as a child. It feels good to get this food.”

For Matysik of Share, the DoorDash deliveries to Hauser and others are just the beginning.

“The ultimate goal,” he said, “is to someday be able to deliver food to all people in need, 24/7 — not just seniors.”

Matysik called it “a matter of dignity.”

He added, “We don’t want people waiting in line for an hour waiting for food. If we’re still doing that in five years, then we’ve failed.”


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