The people who live in the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhoods surrounding La Salle University have had to cope with a minimal supply of fresh, healthy and affordable food for a long time. They instead had to rely on perhaps cheaper, but much less healthier food options.
For example, when I had previously went out to speak to local residents about local food sources, people told me their favorite places to get food included takeout restaurants such as Wendy’s or Explorers Den. There are also a high number of other similar restaurants in the area that offer food that is inexpensive, but may not be particularly good for one’s health.
However, the problem is not just local; it is a state-wide issue. According to hungerbites.org, one in five households with children struggle with food hardship in Pennsylvania. 15 percent of Pennsylvanians are also food insecure, meaning their access to enough food is limited by a lack of money and other resources. The lack of money and other resources can be due to increases in the price of heating oil, gasoline and rents, which have consequently resulted in record numbers of individuals and families seeking food assistance during the last year.
For those who wonder why so many people are hungry, Rebecca Long, a coordinator for La Salle’s Pheed Philly program, believes inequality is to blame:
“It’s because of power. It’s inequalities and access to resources and opportunities… we have plenty of food here on [La Salle’s] campus to feed everyone five times over. But, in the city, if you don’t have resources or power, money… you can’t get food.”
That, of course, changed some in 2007 for local residents living around La Salle. A very nice resource, namely a Fresh Grocer supermarket, was built right down the street from La Salle’s main campus… and residents have since had easier access to healthier food options.
Before the Fresh Grocer was built, people relied more on unhealthier food such as fast food for nourishment. As a result, the percent of adults who live in these neighborhoods (designated as zip codes 19138 & 19141 on the chart) are much more likely to become obese once they turn 40 years old (see below). The chart compares people of those locations to the overall population in Southeastern Pa.
Members of the La Salle community began to notice the ongoing issues that immediately surrounded them. Thus, Exploring Nutrition was born. Led by Dr. Marjorie Allen, who is the Chair of the Integrative Studies Department at La Salle, students and faculty have been able to raise funds and host events that helps feed hungry mouths healthy food.
One of the events includes Pheed Philadelphia, which was started in 2011. Students in this program work towards fighting hunger and poverty through active involvement in local soup kitchens, dining halls, and on-campus awareness programs.
Their marquee event happens around Easter time. 2015 marked Exploring Nutrition’s fifth annual Spring Food Drive. This year, La Salle partnered with The Fresh Grocer at La Salle to raise $4,000, producing approximately 4,500 pounds of fresh vegetables to give to those families in need. Recipients of the food are members of 11 different faith-based institutions from around the area (see map below).
The basic process of the food drive goes as follows:
First, all of the food gets delivered to the Fresh Grocer at La Salle.
Two, organizations from La Salle and the area travel to the Fresh Grocer to organize and bag all of the food. Participating organizations this year included La Salle LGU students, Delta Sigma Pi, a business fraternity at La Salle that is dedicated to service, children from Wagner Middle School, and the 35th District Townwatch. All of these organizations worked together to efficiently organize all of the food in only a few hours.
Three, the food gets packed then transported via a U-haul truck to the 11 institutions.
Four, once the food arrives at the institutions, people that work for the institutions plus local volunteers unload the truck and reorganize the bags of food, determining how many families need what amount of food.
Five, once the organization is complete, the food is transported by car by institution workers or affiliates to the families who need the food most. The video below provides coverage of the drive itself in addition to hearing participants perspectives on their experiences.
Everyone who participated genuinely felt good about their assistance. Everyone who spoke on the video realized the impact they are making. Over 800 families benefitted from the Spring Food Drive.
It wasn’t too long ago when most people have been almost completely deprived of access to fresh food. Because of the Fresh Grocer that now sits within the community, and because of the Spring Food Drive, people now have more access to a supply of fresh, healthy and affordable food.