Poverty: Five Free Meal Volunteer Opportunities

Around 50 million Americans are living in food-insecure households. With recent cuts in SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, food pantries and free meal programs are feeling the burden of Philly’s growing population living in hunger. Despite federally funded aid programs like SNAP, many Philadelphians are still unable to feed their households.

In a 2011 report, Feeding America, a national nonprofit combating food insecurity found 50 percent of food-insecure individuals are eligible for SNAP benefits but more than half of those receiving benefits still turn to food banks at least six times a year. As the poverty rate in Philadelphia reached 28.4 percent in 2013, organizations providing free nutritious meals are becoming more important than ever to thousands of Philadelphians.

Meals on Wheels
A volunteer puts hot packaged meals into plastic bags. Photo/ Meaghan Pogue

Meals on Wheels at Klein JCC 10100 Jamison Avenue

Located in Northeast Philadelphia Klein JCC  has been serving the senior community since 1975, offering dozens of academic, physical and financial aid programs for the over-50 community.  The Retried Seniors Volunteer Program, operating from Klein JCC offers Meals on Wheels, a program that aims to alleviate hunger among seniors with home-cooked meals from local civic groups and caterers. All meals are prepared, packaged, and delivered to seniors by volunteers across the city at a low cost determined by need.

“No one should be going hunger,” said Julie Borsky, RSVP associate director, “especially seniors who have given back to the community for so many years. They just need a little extra help sometimes, we all do.”

A server waited for a table to clear. Photo/ Mamaye Mesfin
A server waited for a table to clear. Photo/ Mamaye Mesfin

St. Francis Inn Ministries 2441 Kensington Avenue

St. Francis Inn Ministries has been serving meals to the community for more than 30 years. Volunteers seat the guests, serve them meals and bus tables like any other restaurant, a practice long-time volunteer Kevin Cilano says gives patrons dignity.

“It’s not the same when you just hand someone a paper bag,” Cilano said. “Having them sit and serving them makes it more human.”

St. Francis serves a least one meal every day of the week and has a schedule for mealtimes on their website.

300 Ministries
Volunteers scramble to serve people in Center City. Photo/ Mamaye Mesfin

Chosen 300 Ministries 1116 Spring Garden Street

Chosen 300 Ministries, an alliance of 85 churches and organizations, has been distributing 100,000 free meals per year since 1996. After mayor Michael Nutter introduced a law that banned serving the poor food on city parkland in 2012, organizations like Chosen 300 entered a legal battle. Mayor Nutter defended the law, arguing that it was designed to move homelessness into indoor facilities. In its legal petition, Chosen 300 argued the law was an effort to remove the poor from major tourist areas. In late 2012, a judge ruled in favor of outdoor feeding and Chosen 300 took to the streets offering warm meals to anyone who needs it.

From May until October Chosen 300 Ministries is on 16th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway every Saturday at 5:00 p.m., serving anyone who needs it.

Advocate Cafe
A cook pours a hearty pot of mashed potaotes into a serving dish. Photo/ Meaghan Pogue

Church of the Advocate 1801 Diamond Street

Established more than a century ago, the Church of the Advocate has remained an historical and cultural pillar in the North Philadelphia community.  The Advocate was the first Episcopal church in the world to ordain women and served as a hub for activism during the Civil Rights Movement. The Advocate Café serves a hot meal Monday through Friday cooked by volunteers.

In 2012 alone the Advocate Café served almost 20,000 meals as well as providing 3,000 food vouchers for food pickup across the city.

Grace Cafe
A volunteer filled a table with healthy food options at Grace Cafe. Photo/ Meaghan Pogue

Grace Café at Arch Street United Methodist Church 55 N. Broad Street

Arch Street United Methodist Church hosts Grace Café every Sunday at 5:30 p.m., where volunteers prepare a hot meal for Philadelphia’s most vulnerable residents. Located in the church’s basement, patrons of Grace Café receive hot drinks, wholesome meals, and musical entertainment. The need for volunteers is mounting as the number of patrons grows every week.

“Last summer the highest number of people we had was 175, now we serve 200 almost every week,” said longtime volunteer and coordinator of Grace Café, Zoey Bonfante. “We need at least 20 volunteers to do a table-serve.”

– Text and images by Mamaye Mesfin and Meaghan Pogue

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