Having sung backup for musicians such as Patti LaBelle, Celine Dion and Michael Bolton, Strawberry Mansion resident Veronica Underwood can tell you what it’s like to be riding high. She even released her own album on Atlantic Records in 1985.
But the single mother of two also knows what it’s like go without basic necessities.
“Even now I’m struggling to pay for groceries. I don’t buy groceries every month,” admitted Underwood, who turns 53 next week. “I do the canned goods and that’s what’s keeping us afloat. Oftentimes I scratch for my daughter’s lunch money, because you have to pay for that and transportation.”
Underwood is a self-employed vocalist who teaches music therapy part-time for the University of Pennsylvania. But with an annual income of about $18,000 and her unwillingness to accept government assistance, she relies on a food pantry supported by Philabundance, the region’s largest food bank.
In the last year, Philabundance has seen a 22 percent increase in need; there’s been a 66 percent increase in the past two years. Most shocking is that more than 6 in 10 clients make too much money to qualify for food stamps.
“I think we’re seeing a very change in the structure of our society,” said Philabundance Executive Director Bill Clark. “It’s a quiet kind of problem — but at our end of the spectrum it’s a serious, serious problem. We’re seeing it get worse by the day.”
Underwood passionately talks about the importance of the donations, but she can recall a time when she wasn’t so secure about accepting donations.
“A lot of people don’t realize how much struggle there is in the U.S. and how [many] people do not have,” she said.