By Sarah Marsh, Office of Access, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion program coordinator, and Anthony Reyes, program coordinator Gateway to Success/Act 101 Program and Undergraduate Success academic advisor
What does service mean to you? How does it inspire you to act? For some at Arcadia University, service means introspection, mutual aid, and community. This year, the Arcadia University community partnered with the Food and Wellness Network (FAWN) to address food insecurity in West Philadelphia.
“I have been living in West Philadelphia for the last four years,” said Reyes. “It was important to me to give back to the community that has welcomed me and become my home.”
In honor of the 2022 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, the MLK Committee at Arcadia decided to partner with other community organizations in order to collect donations for FAWN, a local food pantry that serves families in Philadelphia experiencing food insecurity. The Annual MLK Committee was first organized in 2021 and continues to honor and bring Dr. King’s legacy to Arcadia. Mr. Reyes was one such member of the MLK Committee. His previous work as Social Worker for Turning Points for Children, led him to suggest the partnership with FAWN, as he had worked with them closely in the past as a resource for families he served.
“As a member of the MLK committee, I coordinated and collected donations across campus for FAWN,” said Reyes. “They organize a network of community-based food pantries offering nutritious food, infant formula, diapers, nutrition education, and other resource connections to families.”
The drive was originally intended to run from December until the end of January, but was delayed until the end of February due to the pandemic. Fortunately, this delay allowed the Arcadia community enough time to safely return to campus and collect donations. Mr. Reyes was assisted by Amy Cruz and Whan Colon, Arcadia students who helped with the distribution of the donation boxes across campus and collection of the items. “I was glad to assist with this drive. I was happy to know that there are people in the Arcadia community who are willing to help donate,” said Amy Cruz.
The day of service, which was eventually held on March 8, resulted in the donation of 40+ pantry bags to West Philadelphia residents. Three Arcadia members were able to volunteer in-person at the PHMC Public Health Campus: Reyes, Marsh, and McKenna Moore, an Arcadia graduate student.
“I moved to Philadelphia in 2020 for grad school. Even before I moved, advocating for and being involved in the community was always something important in my family,” said Marsh. “I remember what it was like to need help and have my community surround me with love and support my dreams. I’m now in a place where I can be the one to reach out and say, ‘I will help you’.”
Food insecurity is defined by the US Department of Agriculture as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life”. It disproportionately impacts communities of color, single-parents - especially women and femme-indentified caretakers, low-income families and individuals, people with disabilities, and homeless individuals - especially queer and trans youths. Families with children are much more likely to experience food insecurity. When measured in 2020 by the CDC National Center for Health Statistics, 10.8% of children (ages 0-17) live in households that are food insecure nation-wide. Black and Hispanic children experienced food insecurity at a greater rate (18.8% and 15.7%, respectively) than that of non-Hispanic White children (6.5%). Additionally, children with disabilities are more likely to live in food-insecure households than children without disabilities (19.3% compared to 9.8%, respectively).
These numbers have increased because of the pandemic. Many food pantries in Philadelphia have reported a 60% increase in requests for assistance since the start of 2020. Now almost 1 in 5 Philadelphians experiences food insecurity. Food insecurity has often been connected by social scientists and activists to discrimination and systemic oppression. It is indicative of the long history the United States has with systemic racism - specifically redlining and segregation. Philadelphia is no exception.
“Those of us who live that experience know these things. It would be more accurate to define the experience of food insecurity as food apartheid, since it is the result of social policy, false resource scarcity, and man-made actions. Food insecurity in the United States is not a natural phenomenon,” said Ms. Marsh. “In order to truly honor Dr. King, we cannot just remember his words on MLK, Jr. Day. We must live them all throughout the year by addressing the systems that still harm our neighbors.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage people to volunteer, but it is not the only time that we can make an impact in our communities. Making time to volunteer is a great way to engage with your community while honoring the legacy of Dr. King. Whether cleaning up a public space, mentoring a young person, or assisting those who are food insecure, what you do makes a world of difference. “
I was very appreciative of the engagement demonstrated by the community at Arcadia for their contribution to address this need, stated Reyes. “I look forward to continuing and expanding this line of service for years to come.”
Because of the pandemic, FAWN currently functions on a pop-up pantry model, utilizing their Facebook and Instagram accounts to let the community know where they will be a few weeks in advance. To learn about volunteer or internship opportunities at FAWN please contact Elizabeth Prohasky, Program Director, at (267)639-0208 or firstname.lastname@example.org.