There are more people who are below the poverty level in the city of Philadelphia then there are in the state of Pennsylvania below. As a result, poverty is a major issue in Philadelphia.
La Salle University launched its Exploring Nutrition Program (ENP), which aims to create partnerships between urban universities and local businesses, community organizations and religious institutions, to utilize collective resources and expertise to have a positive impact on their neighborhood’s health and nutritional well-being.
A couple of goals ENP hopes to fulfill includes wanting to meet the needs of those people in La Salle’s immediate neighborhood and to understand how some of the environmental and social aspects of the community serves as barriers to making and maintaining healthy changes to eating and weight.
For a long time, the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood surrounding La Salle University has been a “food desert.” This means an underserved community lacks access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Since 1950, food deserts have been an issue in Philadelphia. According to Nicole Apollon Chirouze, Jennifer Atlas, and Parth Rajyaguru, food deserts became a trend between the 1950s and 1970s, due to urban residents of Philadelphia moved to the suburbs. Grocery stores followed this movement, enticed by lower startup costs and higher profit margins. At the end of this suburbanization process, Philadelphia became the city with the second-lowest number of supermarkets per capita in the United States.
In La Salle’s neighborhood, the closest supermarkets have been a ShopRite located slightly over two and a half miles away from its main campus, and a Pathmark almost two miles away.
Those two supermarkets seem relatively close. However, after listening to Dr. Marjorie Allen of La Salle University’s English and Integrative Studies departments speak to a group of students, she alluded to a shocking stat: as of 2010, the average income for local residents living around La Salle was $24,000 per year.
Therefore, many people may not have had cars, thus relying on public transportation as their primary travel option. One could imagine the difficulty of lugging at least a dozen grocery bags onto a city bus.
To help combat this problem, La Salle helped fund a Fresh Grocer to be built right down the street from its main campus several years ago. In addition, an Easter Food Drive was held in 2013. Nearly 80 La Salle students, faculty, and staff members collected 3,600 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables, having distributed them among 15 community partners, which helped feed more than 2,000 people.
ENP continues to work through La Salle to build strong ties with the local community to help resolve hunger issues.
On Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, three La Salle Students – Liana Irizarry, Conor Coleman and Jessica Seamon – of the Leadership and Global Understanding (LGU) program were assigned to go to the Masjidullah Mosque.
The Mosque is located in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia. It sits at the corner of the three-way intersection of Limekiln Pike, E. Washington Lane and 74th Ave. Across the street sits the West Oak Lane Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Further down the street is a U Haul Dealer and a Sunoco gas station.
On Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, Irizarry, Coleman, and Seamon met with one of Masjidullah’s Board of Trustee members, Mike Rashid to discuss their goals they have with the Mosque for the upcoming weeks. As of right now, the students want to become involved in the Masjidullah community on a personal level. In other words, they want to get to know individuals as themselves outside of the Mosque. They will eventually work with the Mosque on a food drive.
They will meet again with a couple of other people of the Masjidullah administration this upcoming week before putting their goals into action.
When you are driving around in the city of Philadelphia and you see a bunch of children playing at a local playground, know that approximately one-third of the children may be living in poverty. As a result, those of children may not be guaranteed a meal that night when they go home.
Struggling parents have to pay for some expenses (electricity, heat, rent), while leaving others such as food off the list, simply due to the fact they cannot afford it. It’s a sad reality that plagues a large population here in Philadelphia. For more information, check out Hunger Coalition.
The hunger problem is prominent in Northwest Philadelphia, where La Salle University’s main campus is located. To help combat the problem, Pheed Philadelphia was started in 2011. In this program, students work towards fighting hunger and poverty through active involvement in local soup kitchens, dining halls, and on-campus awareness programs.
Rebecca Long and Molly Mahon are two of the 10 current coordinators. On Tuesday, Jan. 27, I spoke to two of them and they explained details regarding the Pheed Philadelphia program, including how it was started.
Mahon said, “There [were] two programs on campus. One was called Soup Kitchen Group and the other one was called Homeless Outreach, and once they realized they were basically… working with the same population of people… they joined together and started Pheed Philadelphia…”.
Students from Pheed Philadelphia go to four soup kitchens a week and go every day except Wednesdays.
Pheed Philadelphia is working to expand their efforts. Hopefully sooner rather than later, children do not have to worry about where their next meal is coming from.