22 July, 2009

Hinges of Hope in Philly


Hinges of HopeAfter a year and a half with Share Our Strength, I’ve attended Taste of the Nation parties, held Great American Bake Sales, sent out emails for A Tasteful Pursuit dinners, and have participated in all kinds of events, both culinary and volunteer-oriented. But recently, I finally took my first Hinges of Hope tour.

But it’s not just any Hinges of Hope tour; this one was special to me because it gave me the chance to see one of the cities we work closely with with my own eyes: Philadelphia.

Philadelphia is a beautiful city, even while its utter poverty in some areas strongly affects me. We pull in via train around 9:00 AM, and already I feel sporadic episodes of cognitive dissonance. The beauty is overwhelming, yet a homeless beggar is the first human contact I really lay eyes upon. I have brought only my credit card and so have nothing to give him.  This bothers me greatly, but I am in a hurry to catch up with my group before they leave in the vans, so all I end up doing is apologizing and hurry past him.  I am reminded of something Billy Shore always says: “Choose a cause that is big enough to matter, but small enough to actually succeed in.”  Eliminating poverty like this is certainly a big enough cause, but it is too big for me to focus on right now.  There is just too much to do in the arena of eliminating child hunger by 2015.

Hinges of HopeSoon, we are all sitting in a circle of chairs, introducing ourselves to the group. We have a little less than two dozen people, a third of which are staff that I work with everyday. The rest come from across the country in all kinds of different fields. We have Kelly Morrison, a Taste of the Nation Philadelphia committee member. Daniel Feldman, whom I first met at the 2008 Conference of Leaders, is just finishing high school, and does a lot of great fundraising with the Great American Bake Sale. John Martin, President of Capital Grille, does a lot of work with us; as does Patsy Norton of Great American Restaurants. The group is fairly diverse, representing many differing frames of view. I can tell already that this trip will be amazing.

Before long, we head out in dual vans through the city of brotherly love.  Philabundance is first to speak, giving us an overview of their work in the city. (A future post will go into greater detail on what we learned while riding in those vans, including a full video that I taped while en route.) Suffice it to say for now that I envy those who get to work in the trenches like this. Share Our Strength may be dedicated to raising money in innovative ways and in allocating resources how they will best solve the issue of childhood hunger, but Philabundance actually gets to use the money we grant them to accomplish so much good in their area. Over 65,000 people each week are directly fed through their work.  And that’s just plain impressive.

Mariana ChiltonAfter a short ride/oral presentation, we arrived at the GROW Clinic at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.  There, we met Dr. Mariana Chilton, who took us on a tour of how they deal with malnutrition there.  (Again, as this is an overview blog post, I won’t go into the details here, but you may expect a future post to go into more detail on all that we saw there, including more video.)

The work they do there is just plain amazing.  They identify children who experience a “failure to thrive” and correct it through a team including pediatricians, nurse practitioners, nutritionists, psychologists, and social workers.  It’s important to realize that those they treat aren’t just small for their age—a condition that isn’t necessarily negative at all—but rather they grow less quickly over time than normal children do.  Some of the case studies we saw there actually had children that became smaller over time due to nutritional issues.

Share Our Strength’s mission is to end childhood hunger in America, a situation that many citizens don’t even realize is an issue in a country as rich as this.  But the GROW clinic actually deals with starving children.  Can you imagine?  Starving children in a country with such an overabundance of food….   It scares me just thinking about it.



“It’s not just food. We have plenty of food in Philly, but we still have hunger. People do not realize they even qualify for food help. Food banks exist, but it doesn’t fix the entire problem.”
— Dr. Mariana Chilton, GROW Project


Romano's GroceryThat afternoon, we met The Food Trust at a few corner grocery stores that took my breath away.  We visited three different corner stores, the first showing what a typical corner store is like, the second showing what a difference a little fresh food can make, and the third exemplified what can be done with a corner store with a little funding and good old fashioned hard work. The experience was so amazing that I think it better not to go into too much detail today; the experience really deserves a full blog post all on its own.  (When posted, I’ll make sure to add a link to it here.)

The day ended with a meal talking with Dr. Mariana Chilton and a few of the mothers from her Witnesses to Hunger project.  What we discussed there brought tears to nearly everyone’s eyes. It is difficult to describe the conversation that results when you take the time to listen up close to those who live every day in poverty. If for no other reason, this is why Hinges of Hope means as much to me as it does.

In a future blog entry, you will see video of our conversation there. But for now, I’d like to leave you with a few quotes from that conversation. Perhaps then you’ll all understand why this Hinges of Hope tour re-energized me to continue doing all the work I do every day here at Share Our Strength.


“I make $7.15 an hour, and I’m proud of it. I want to be able to buy something for my kids and feel good about the fact that I got it for them.”
“My five year old stole a bag of chips from another five year old. But I couldn’t bring myself to punish him. How could I? He was hungry.”
“My child went on a trip to Florida with her class and experienced oranges for the first time last year. She told me ‘Mama, that was a real orange;it was so juicy, it squirted in my friend’s eye.’ Before that, my kid ain’t never had no orange that wasn’t already close to being rotten.”
“My husband makes too much money for us to be on Medicare. But I can’t afford health insurance. What am I supposed to do?”
“Just in order to make ends meet, I have to work 25 hours on the clock, plus 15 more under the table. God bless that man; he pays me cash so that I can still get my food stamps every month. I gotta work 40 hours even as a single mom, just to pay the bills, but I can only claim 25 hours in order to keep my food stamps.”
“It’s not fair that my children can’t grow up enjoying a wider variety of foods. I want them to know what tofu is, but it’ll never happen. There’s just not enough money.”
“If you don’t live in the inner city, then you don’t understand how we live.”