Axios Philadelphia

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Happy Tuesday, Philly!

🌥 Today's weather: Clouds will stick around, and temperatures won't get out of the low 40s.

Today's newsletter is 937 words, a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Food banks brace for more challenges

Illustration of a box that contains some food and dotted outlines of food that is missing.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Local food banks are scrambling to manage an increase in need and inflated food prices this holiday season.

Why it matters: More than 16% of Philadelphians are food insecure, lacking consistent and reliable access to enough meals, according to the latest 2018 data. But the figure could be as high as 21.2% because of the pandemic.

  • And the demand for assistance is only expected to grow this winter.

The big picture: Inflation — which is at a 30-year high — and supply chain issues are fueling a rise in prices for goods across the country.

Zoom in: Philabundance, which serves at least 135,000 people per week, originally budgeted to spend about $120,000 per month for food before the pandemic hit. But by the end of fiscal year 2020, the local hunger relief nonprofit spent more than $500,000 per month.

  • Prices have only skyrocketed from there. The group spent a total of $10.5 million in FY 2021, and it expects to pay $14.9 million for FY 2022.

Meanwhile, Share Food Program said it's seeing a 30% increase in food spending compared to last year.

  • The organization also went from serving 700,000 people in the Philadelphia region per month to 1 million.

What they're saying: Share Food spokesperson Jessica Bautista said that the lack of additional emergency sources of food and federal coronavirus assistance, like the Farmers to Families Food Box Program that ended in May, "presents its challenges."

  • Philabundance CEO Loree Jones told Axios the organization is ordering food "well in advance" to address food supply issues.

How to help: Both Share Food Program and Philabundance are welcoming more volunteers through their websites.

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2. Free on-street holiday parking gets the boot

Illustration of a parking lot with lines painted with gold, and dollar signs in each one.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The city has canceled free on-street parking on Saturdays in December.

What they're saying: The city's Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability called the decades-old program "counter-productive" in a released statement.

  • "Free parking on Saturdays in December encouraged all-day on-street parking while discouraging the turnover that is needed for customers to find a spot and start shopping," OTIS said.

Flashback: The city already nixed free parking offered on the first Friday of every month "without negative impacts," OTIS noted.

Of note: Holiday parking specials are now in effect at six Philadelphia Parking Authority garages.

  • Park all day between 11am and midnight for $8 on Saturdays through the end of the year.

3. School staff shortages plague Philly district

An unidentified student exits the bus on her way to school. Photo: William Thomas Cain/Getty
An unidentified student exits the bus on her way to school. Photo: William Thomas Cain/Getty

Philadelphia school staff members are spreading themselves thin as the district struggles to fill many vacant positions amid an ongoing worker shortage.

Driving the news: About 50 district administrative staff members will be temporarily teaching classes, monitoring cafeterias and answering phones in a handful of schools starting this week, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

State of play: The School District of Philadelphia began offering daily bonuses for substitute teachers, assistants, food service workers, librarians, secretaries and nurses last month to attract more workers.

  • There are over 250 teacher vacancies and nearly 1,900 open positions in total, according to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union.
  • District spokesperson Marissa Orbanek told Axios schools have seen an increase in substitutes filling in jobs in November compared to October, but she didn't provide a number.

The big picture: The pandemic prompted a nationwide teacher shortage.

  • Nationally, there were 575,000 fewer local and state education employees in October 2021 than in February 2020, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What they're saying: Hillary Linardopoulos, a spokesperson for the teachers union, told Axios that educators "are more exhausted than ever" due to a mix of re-acclimating students to the classroom, dealing with the pandemic and working through the city's surge of gun violence.

  • This is all on top of extra work because of chronic staffing issues.

The bottom line: Our education system is in a fragile place.

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4. News Market

Illustration of the statue of William Penn, from Philadelphia City Hall, reading the news on his phone.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

💵 Wawa is the largest privately owned company in the state by revenue. The convenience store's $11 billion in sales last year was enough to make it the 29th largest in the U.S. (Forbes)

⚖️ Moshe Porat, the former dean of Temple University's Fox Business School, was convicted Monday on federal fraud charges related to submitting fraudulent school data to publications that put out yearly national school rankings. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

5. City monitoring Omicron variant

Illustration of a security camera focused on several virus molecules.
Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

Omicron, the new COVID-19 variant, has not been detected in Philadelphia as of Monday, a city health department spokesperson told Axios.

Driving the news: The Philadelphia Department of Public Health is monitoring the variant and working with federal health officials to learn more about what to expect, spokesperson James Garrow said.

The big picture: President Biden said on Monday that Omicron is "a cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

  • Much remains unknown about the new variant, including how transmissible it is and how effective vaccines are against it, according to the World Health Organization.
  • But Omicron will "inevitably" be found in the U.S., Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this weekend.

Zoom in: While the city is not issuing any new COVID restrictions over Omicron, Garrow said there is "still a real and present threat" to Philadelphians as local cases of the Delta variant are now rising.

  • "It's smart for people to keep an eye out for updates on Omicron, but to take precautions against the Delta variant," he said.

Of note: The Philadelphia School District is not considering any changes to its COVID protocols due to Omicron at this point, district spokesperson Monica Lewis said.

Our picks:

ğŸŽ„ Mike is brainstorming ideas for outdoor holiday decorations.

🐈 Taylor got approved to adopt a kitten. All cat-related tips are welcome.