Feeding Philadelphia: How Whitsons Came Through in a City’s Time of Need

Posted on September 7, 2022

How We Got Here

As the summer of 2022 approached, the City of Philadelphia Department of Parks & Recreation and School District of Philadelphia were faced with a serious dilemma. Under short notice, their previous meal vendor was unable to provide the approximately 26,000 meals per day needed for the children in summer programs throughout the city. Philadelphia was looking for a food management company that could deliver this incredible volume of meals five days a week to its 460 locations. That’s when Whitsons stepped up—just as the company was going through its own expansion of its Prepared Meals division. With summer programs still in full swing, Philadelphia had a need and Whitsons was in the position to deliver.

The Challenges

Whitsons recently expanded its services within its Prepared Meals division in May. Having acquired a new state-of-the art distribution center in Philadelphia at that time, Whitsons was a natural fit to be able to produce the volume their new neighbor needed. However, other infrastructure was required to be able to deliver the food safely and timely. Namely: Whitsons needed to invest in hundreds of refrigerated vehicles with proper equipment to ensure the food could be delivered to the multitude of playgrounds, recreation centers and other feeding sites around the city, where thousands of children relied on these meals every day. Approximately 40 new refrigerated trucks and drivers who knew how to navigate the city were also needed to deliver the meals safely and on time.

How Whitsons Pulled it Off

Our key promises have always been to:

  • Treat everyone like family
  • Serve wholesome food that tastes great
  • Nurture authentic communication

When faced with a dilemma as big as this, nurturing authentic communication took on an even greater significance, as Whitsons and the City of Philadelphia built a growing relationship based on short-term faith and long-term trust. In the short term, Philadelphia had to put faith into Whitsons to deliver the meals they needed for their children without missing a day. In the long term, Whitsons needed to trust in Philadelphia that the investment they put into the infrastructure required to deliver those meals in the immediate future would grow this collaboration into a commitment.

Every great partnership is built on trust, which can only come through the authentic communication necessary to collaborate and succeed together. David DeScenza, Regional Vice President, led Whitsons’ efforts in building that level of partnership with the Mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenny, and Amy Virus, Manager of the Division of Food Services at the School District of Philadelphia. On the brink of not being able to execute a feeding program, everyone came together with the shared mindset that there was no option to fail; there were thousands of children who were relying on these meals.

"The leap of faith we took in each other had to happen,” said DeScenza. “We needed to trust in each other, and if we all did our part, we knew we could get food into the hands of the kids who needed it as cost effectively as we could.”

As partners, Whitsons and the City of Philadelphia came together and went beyond barriers to come to an agreement to ultimately feed approximately 26,000 wholesome meals a day to a community that has now become part of the Whitsons family. In delivering on the promises made through authentic communication, Whitsons Prepared Meals has now become the school meal provider for Philadelphia Public Schools, as well as for several other clients in the greater Philadelphia area.

“Whitsons stepped in and seamlessly provided our summer meals on very short notice. We collaboratively dedicated the staff and resources needed to find solutions and a way forward,” said Virus. “Our priority is serving appealing and nutritious meals, and Whitsons has shown to be a great partner for our students and the City of Philadelphia.”

“It required tremendous collaboration and trust to overcome a crisis before it became a crisis,” said DeScenza. “Everyone involved--from the city’s perspective and the school’s perspective--did their job beyond the call of duty to make sure the children were fed. Given the tough economic times with a supply chain crisis, especially in our industry, this really was a great accomplishment for everyone involved. And we can grow from here.”

Whitsons’ Next Steps

The simultaneous growth of the Whitsons Prepared Meals division has also kept more than 200 jobs in the city. Whitsons not only has come through in feeding the children of Philadelphia, but in doing so, has also invested in the future of the City of Philadelphia by welcoming new team members to the Whitsons family.

Whitsons continues to expand service to several other area communities. They include the Lancaster School District in PA, Newark Educators Community in NJ, Nutritional Development Services in PA and Reading School District in PA. In addition to expanding Prepared Meals services, its School Nutrition division welcomed new clients, including Camden City School District, NJ and Cheltenham Public Schools, PA.

If you and your district are interested in nutritious, inclusive meal options, please reach out to Whitsons so that we can help spread delicious, great tasting food to communities everywhere!