We’re featuring guest posts from fellow Franciscan organizations dealing with hunger in the U.S. as part of Hunger Action Month. Today’s post comes from a St. Francis Inn Ministries in Pennsylvania.
On July 19, 393 people came to the doors of St. Francis Inn, a soup kitchen in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, for a meal consisting of sandwiches, an ear of corn, and a side salad. The guests were served restaurant-style in a modest dining room that seats 48. The steady stream of people continued unabated from the moment the gate opened at 11:30 a.m. until it closed at 1:05 p.m.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few,” noted Jesus. Here, the harvest of the needy threatens to overwhelm the small band of staff and volunteers who scurry to prepare, cook, serve and clean up for the guests.
Who were all these people who came from far and near? They were 393 unique stories, each depicting certain commonalities.
St. Francis Inn serves anyone who comes during meal hours, so the crowd includes senior citizens stretching a fixed income; families largely made up of single parents or grandparent units with children whose food stamps had run out; single, jobless men and women with no general assistance welfare checks; and an assortment of homeless, addicted and/or mentally ill people
Though some people, particularly seniors, make their way to the Inn from all over the city, the majority comes from nearby neighborhoods, some of which are among the poorest in the country.
Zip code 19133, adjacent to the Inn, is the poorest zip code in Philadelphia. Fifty percent of its population lives below the poverty line. The average annual family income barely breaks $20,000. Most adults have not completed high school.
In this area, the structural forces that contribute to poverty are readily evident: empty factories, empty warehouses, failed economic empowerment, rusting equipment, schools encircled by barbed wire and weedy playgrounds
Someone working for the minimum wage of $7.25/hour and works 40 hours a week grosses $290 a week. Subtract commuting expenses, clothing expenses, rents often tipping $600, possibly daycare or paying a relative or friend to babysit and what remains often seems barely worth the effort. At these high turnover jobs, it takes uncommon motivation and perseverance to try to advance within a work setting. Not to mention Social Security checks can barely cover rent.
It may seem hopeless, but it is not. The first step towards addressing the needs of those who live “in poverty”–recently announced to be 1 in 6 Americans–is to understand who they are as people, not as “the poor,” which is a faceless, dehumanizing term.
There are many legitimate and dedicated organizations devoted to meeting the basic needs of people in economic distress. By becoming involved in one of these organizations and enabling yourself to understand your connection with just one needy person, you will be transformed as much as them.
When the “haves” and “have-nots” find common ground in their common humanity, hunger will be conquered.
A native of Philadelphia and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Karen Pushaw started serving at St. Francis Inn as a Franciscan volunteer in 1991 and joined the staff in 1993. Since 1979, St. Francis Inn has been serving meals restaurant style to those with the greatest need and has provided monthly food baskets for families and homebound seniors. For more information, visit stfrancisinn.org.