After receiving a large grant last year from Target as part of a library makeover giveaway, James Russell Lowell Elementary at 450 West Nedro St. was given the support of Philabundance to offer a food distribution program for the students. The program, Meals for Minds, supplies roughly 24lbs. of food per student each month, 25 percent of which is fresh fruit or vegetables.
“There’s a lot of additional concerns aside from hunger, like obesity, so providing the fresh fruits and vegetables is really important,” said the school’s head of discipline, safety and projects, Diane Gillen.
Meals for Minds representatives urged J. R. Lowell Elementary to rekindle a community flame with its neighbor, St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.
“We needed more volunteers to help distribute the food and sustain that grant that we received,” said Gillen.
Answering the call of the community needs, Pastor Rodney Kopp and point-person for the church, Anna Farley, joined the efforts to strengthen the sense of stability in the neighborhood.
“Many families of Lowell live below the poverty line,” Farley said, “I just want to jump in and help any way I can to help build a heal their community.”
“If they come to school hungry then they can’t concentrate. If they’re hungry they might also feel sick, so then they have to spend time in the nurses office, which takes away from the learning process,” Gillen said.
Hunger, said Gillen, is a growing issue in several of the homes of the students. Out of a total enrollment of 976 students this year, 94.8 percent are considered economically disadvantage, according to the Philadelphia School District’s website.
Pastor Kopp shared Gillen’s feelings about the loss of unity in the surrounding area.
“I really don’t know how many of our families here actually have a warm, sit-down meal at a table anymore,” Pastor Kopp said.
Although only a few students of Lowell attend the church’s services, Farley and Pastor Kopp believe in living out the mission and vision of the church through community relationships.
St. Paul’s, which sits on the opposite corner of Lowell, recognizes itself to be an urban Christian congregation dedicated to the Greater Olney Community.
In offering its building to the local Scout groups and to organizations like North Fifth Street Revitalization Project, St. Paul’s strives to achieve a universal appreciation within the community.
“We really got away from our outreach and efforts to strengthen the community for some time,” said Pastor Kopp, who was ordained at the church in 1977. “It wasn’t until around 1993 that we really started to awaken that relationship with the community that the church once had years ago.”
Pastor Kopp said his love for the church stems from its traditional yet innovative German-Lutheran congregation. Adopting the community’s predominant trait of cultural diversity, Pastor Kopp has helped to reimage the church to fit the needs of the congregation members and the neighborhood.
The connection between St. Paul’s and Lowell has continued to grow with each food distribution. From this relationship, families in the area have been given a sense relief and a stronger shoulder to lean on in the neighborhood.
“We are a catalyst in our communities. So, we feel like it is our calling to offer our services to Lowell,” Pastor Kopp said.
The next distribution, scheduled for April 18, will rely on church and community volunteers to help feed 100 to 125 families of Lowell Elementary. Gillen described St. Paul’s volunteers to be happy, gracious and energetic in their offerings during distribution day.
“It’s a wonderful way to connect to the community and really get a feel for what’s going on with the people around you,” Gillen said,
“The volunteers are typically older and the kids that come are younger, so you get that connection between older and younger, which sometimes gets lost.”
As the economy continues to drive means of living to an all-time low for several members of the community, the school and church hope to stabilize a system of relief. The partnership with Philabundance, although a successful one, is termed to end this August but hopes have risen for the continuance of such a program as “Meals for Minds.”
Gillen said she believes the nearby businesses could be more involved in helping to better the community from the inside out, despite most of the local business owners being from other areas of the city. Farley agreed with Gillen’
s view that a sense of community comes from more than just where you live.
“Everywhere you go; the people who surround you are your community. There has to be a mutual respect and care for the people and things in those surroundings,” Farley said.
Together, teams from Lowell and St. Paul’s have started to nourish the community to its core. With high hopes for receiving a further grant with Philabundance, the neighborhood duo strives to battle the local outcomes of poverty in Olney.