Many older Philadelphians are struggling and need help. Of the 1.6 million people in Philadelphia, 384,000 (24%) are over the age of 55. Of those,120,000 live below the poverty line, 250,000 have one or more disabilities, and 243,000 live alone. The numbers are staggering. That’s where the Sarah Ralston Foundation (SRF) comes in. Twice per year, SRF provides funding for nonprofits that serve these vulnerable, underserved older adults. In the fall, the SRF grants are given out to fund innovative programs. The grants awarded each year in the spring are designated for an organization’s general operating expenses.
Most recently, in the spring of 2023, the SRF awarded General Operating Support Grants to twenty-eight organizations. Many of those nonprofits provide food support to seniors (and others) that are considered to be food insecure.
“Food insecurity is a very complex issue,” said Lynette Killen, Executive Director of The Sarah Ralston Foundation. “Trying to identify those that are in need of food support can also be complicated. Poverty, social isolation, lack of transportation, and limited mobility can all be obstacles in obtaining food. In addition, Philadelphia has many food deserts (defined as areas where access to fresh, quality food is hard to come by), which make it difficult for older adults with mobility or transportation issues to get to full-service grocery stores that are affordable. When you examine the issue closely, it becomes clear why there are so many elderly Philadelphians who require food support,” she said.
Northwest Mutual Aid Collective, Face to Face, and Chestnut Hill Meals on Wheels are three examples of grant recipients who focus on this critical issue. Although each of their organizational models operates differently, all three of them provide food to those with limited access or means to obtain it.
Northwest Mutual Aid Collective (NWMAC), is a grant recipient that operates two programs. The first focuses on home delivery of food to people who are disabled, low-income, elderly, or returning home from incarceration or are in a transitional period in their lives. 85% of their clients are elderly. NWMAC provides one bag of fresh produce weekly, and one bag with other food items such as bread, dairy and meat. The second program provides fresh produce to organizations such as local food pantries and homeless shelters across the city. These two NWMAC programs serve 10,000 or more people per month.
NWMAC Executive Director, Linda James-Rivera works closely with her son, Anthony James, Development Manager, to implement these programs. Anthony James noted, “We moved 36 tons of food last year. This year we’ve already donated closer to 50 tons.” The home delivery service operates with the assistance of 27 regular volunteers. They pack grocery bags and then load them onto trucks that run eight routes and deliver groceries to 60 homes. The program currently has a waiting list.
Some of NWMAC’s volunteers are part of the community they serve and some are food insecure themselves. “We have a volunteer shelf with toothpaste, coffee, etc. and the volunteers are welcome to take a grocery bag and additional items they need from the shelf,” Linda James-Rivera said. James points out, “A lot of people need our help. Shelters need our help. Our city is failing to take care of the homeless and others who are in need of assistance. We are always looking for more resources to bring in more food so we can serve more people,” he said.
Face to Face is a 40 year-old nonprofit in Germantown that provides poverty relief in the form of dining room style meals. They serve breakfast and a large noon-time meal five days per week. They also provide legal, health and social services to individuals and families.
“The different service offices are within close proximity to each other,” said Mary Kay Meeks-Hank, Executive Director, “so we are able to holistically address the needs of our guests. A guest might go into social services, describe an issue, and the social worker realizes it’s a legal issue. The guest then gets a warm hand-off to an attorney.”
Each year, 2300 people utilize the services that Face to Face provides. “Poverty is so incredibly complicated,” said Meeks-Hank. “There’s never just one issue. Intergenerational poverty is so difficult to overcome, and I admire the resilience that I see in terms of our clients’ ability to endure the hardships. Our practitioners take their time with each client. They’re not looking at their watches,” she said.
Chestnut Hill Meals on Wheels (MOW) is a nonprofit that provides delivery of a bagged lunch and a complete dinner to 120 individuals. “Every weekday morning, ten to twelve volunteer drivers arrive at First Presbyterian Church in Flourtown,” said Carey Davis, Executive Director of Chestnut Hill MOW. “They gather the items needed for each client on their route list – a bagged lunch, a homemade dessert and a complete dinner prepared by the culinary arts program team at Manna on Main Street in Lansdale,” she said. “The drivers disperse in several directions, delivering to seniors and disabled neighbors in 13 zip codes in the greater Northwest Philadelphia area.”
Davis explained, “71% of the meals are fully subsidized, whereby clients are at 150% or lower of the federal poverty level.” (Federal poverty guidelines indicate that a family of 2 making under $29,580 are below the poverty line.) “76% of clients are 62 years or older and in need of support due to frailty, limited mobility, illness, or injury. We also have younger clients that are facing some type of disability or chronic illness. There has been a 25% increase in the number of clients served in the last two years.”
Although these nonprofits provide food support in different ways, they all participate in the mission of providing life-sustaining food and other vital services to vulnerable, underserved older Philadelphians. Lynette Killen noted, “The mission of these wonderful nonprofits and all of the other 2023 General Operating Support Grant recipients aligns with that of The Sarah Ralston Foundation. We are truly grateful to partner with them and for all they do to improve the lives of our elders.” For more information, visit www.sarahralstonfoundation.org.