How Episcopal Community Services helps families access nutritious foods and healthy habits

The pandemic has upended jobs, housing and the entire economy.

Rising food insecurity at the national levelAnd Philadelphia did not escape this influence. In 2021, it is estimated that nearly 29% of Philadelphia will experience food insecurity, a rate that grew by a fifth from 2018, according to Feeding America. This is nearly double the national average.

as a response, Episcopal Community Services (ECS) and its partners have prioritized access to food through the Treasury and Expanded Community Programs. One of the communities served by ECS is Carol Park, a neighborhood in West Philadelphia that the 91-year-old nonprofit has served for more than 20 years. Originally constructed as a shelter for families experiencing homelessness, the Saint Barnabas Mission Facility has been turned into a community center.

“Our outreach activities have fueled families in the neighborhood for 10 years, with food insecurity being one of the concerns we hear about so often,” he says. Rina McClainDirector of the Saint Barnabas Mission. “There has been a significant increase in the number of people seeking emergency food over the past several years – and the pandemic has increased the challenge of meeting their basic needs for food, not to mention healthy food.”

When Saint Barnabas was working as an emergency shelter, protecting Secrecy The safety of its residents was a priority. “We are now able to welcome more neighbors and become more involved with the community,” she adds.

In recent years, the country’s primary standard of care for families experiencing homelessness has changed from a system of devotees’ shelters such as Saint Barnabas Mission to a system of transporting families directly to their homes. To maintain its commitment to providing safe housing, ECS has tripled the number of units in its rapid rehousing programs — and now maintains 60 stable homes for families experiencing homelessness.

However, at Carroll Park, ECS collected feedback from the neighborhood through town hall-style meetings – in person and virtually – to hear directly from the source what the area needed to say. Launched in April 2021, the Mission Meals + Market program provides the following initiatives, with plans for continued growth and additional programs.

Look at the closet

community dining cupboard

ECS with Villabandance She extended the hours of her community food pantry and nearly doubled the number of families she supports. Previously, takeaway kits were provided, but now with the doors open, the neighbors choose their groceries, and only take what they want and need at an open market, like a grocery store. Shelves hold fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, non-perishable canned goods, and health and hygiene and cleaning supplies. The open-choice model not only creates a more respectable space, but also reduces waste.

Nutrition Education + Workshops

All ECS health and wellness program programs and chapters have been transferred to the Saint Barnabas Mission. Neighbors stocking their fridges and pantries can also stock up on knowledge that supports healthy eating, cooking, and shopping. Classes include SNAP Education and Feed Your Potential 365 in partnership with the Council for Health Promotion, Aramark, and the American Heart Association, respectively.

Cooking community outside

An already popular volunteer activity, Cook-Off is maximizing its results by providing more opportunities for volunteers to prepare meals for food-insecure seniors. Volunteers will meet weekly to assemble approximately 1,000 nutritious meals in the facility’s commercial kitchen. Cooking is done by the chefs on staff, then the packaging and packing are done by volunteers. ECS then delivers the meals to four local senior living centers.

Pamela Eggleston, Director of Health and Wellness Programs, sees the endless opportunities to build a healthier community through more targeted outreach. Previously, ECS health education and workshops were hosted in short-term cohort community centers.

“By having a constant presence, we hope to keep more families who will come back again and again to attend interactive workshops, connect with their neighbors, and maintain healthy habits — which, as we all know, are easy to break,” says Eggleston. “And you can never learn much.”

McLean, a West Philly resident, sees how rare healthy food options are in low-income communities, including the neighborhood she loves.

“I’ve been in West Philly my whole life. And I know how far I drive from my house to St. Barnabas…You don’t see a lot of places to eat. You see convenience stores and corner stores, but you don’t see places to pick up the freshest foods you need to cook for your family” , as you say.

And these communities are likely to have to deal with more barriers already, such as a lack of easy transportation, little money or irregular income to spend, and health conditions or household obligations that make long-traveling on foot an obstacle.

“Quite simply, good food is out of reach by design in neighborhoods like this,” MacLean adds, but with optimism to change that. “This is the saying Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life“.But what happens when there are no fish in the pond?”

Just as St. Barnabas has been a beacon of hope for families experiencing homelessness, ECS’s goal is to make sure that this new use of the space will help it remain hopeful – and that continues to help families in this neighborhood and beyond.

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In-kind donations are essential to the success of Mission Meals + Market, specifically the open-choice community food cabinet. If you would like to help fill the shelves, please send an email sbm@ecsphilly.org or call 215.528.5407. Generous support from people like you makes a huge difference.

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