This is the second installment of our guest series with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and their partners whose groundbreaking work is helping to strengthen our regional food system. Today we hear from Carey Morgan of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger about a successful collaboration to get fresh produce to low income families.
Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger
As spring swings into gear, many of us eagerly anticipate warm weather, fresh air and the start of farmers’ market season. The sight of bountiful red strawberries sitting piled next to crisp green string beans is enough to make your mouth water. For many Philadelphians, however, fresh fruits and vegetables are beyond the reach of their budgets. In fact, in a city where 27 percent of residents live in poverty, many families do not know where their next meal is coming from.
“There have been days where I’ve had to make sacrifices,” said Shearine McGhee, a 31-year-old mom who relies on the federal WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program to feed her family. “But as a mother, I’ll do whatever it takes to feed my children. I live and breathe for them. I make sure they never go without, even if I have to.”
Last year, Shearine and 25,000 other low-income mothers and children were able to buy more fresh produce, under a collaborative initiative coordinated by the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. Through this project, eligible WIC participants received $80 in farmers’ market checks last summer—four times the amount historically allotted by the program. WIC families used the checks to buy fruits and vegetables at more than 30 farmers’ markets throughout Philadelphia.
During the farmers’ market season, the Coalition worked closely with project partners— The Food Trust, North Inc., and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health—to inform participants of the additional benefit through promotional materials at WIC offices and fun events like farmers’ market bus tours.
The result? Between June and December last year, families redeemed nearly 85 percent of those additional WIC farmers’ market checks. That’s equivalent to nearly $1.3 million in fruits and vegetables for families and additional dollars to the area’s farmers. By comparison, when WIC participants received only $20 in farmers’ market checks in previous years, redemption rates averaged around 50 percent.
To fund the initiative, Pennsylvania tapped more than $1 million in federal stimulus funds available to states last year. Federal funds were matched by more than a quarter-million dollars from other funders, including the William Penn Foundation, DVRPC’s Local Food Economy Initiative, the Claneil Foundation, Iovine’s Produce, Philadelphia Foundation, W.W. Smith Charitable Foundation and the Connelly Foundation.
The success of the project exemplifies what can be accomplished when nonprofits, funders and government agencies think creatively about collaboration for the betterment of the community. Everyone wins. The farmers had a great season. And moms and kids in Philadelphia were connected with the nutritious food they need for active and healthy lives.
“It makes me feel good to be able to buy fruits and vegetables for my girls,” Shearine said. “I want my girls to be healthy and have a good start. I really hope the program can continue, so it can help more moms who want the same for their kids.”
If you missed it, part one of this series is here.
This series continues next Monday.
Images courtesy Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger