The blog series “Day in the Life” seeks to illustrate what it’s like to be a Serve Philadelphia VISTA. In the posts, current corps members explore what they’re learning from their position, how they’re contributing to their office, and what it means to do a year of service.
Tuesday, January 30th, 2018 was a historic day for Philadelphia’s homeless community. This day was special because of the grand opening of the Hub of Hope, the city's newest outreach initiative. The Hub of Hope is a daytime engagement center in Suburban Station where people experiencing homelessness can speak with a case manager, receive basic medical attention, and in the coming months receive a meal. The opening of this center signaled a major move by city government and local partners to fight homelessness and hunger.
My connection to the Hub of Hope is my position as the Meals and More Coordinator. Because Philadelphia has one of the highest rates of poverty of any major U.S. city, hunger and homelessness are often unfortunate byproducts. Many wonderful organizations work in the city to combat these issues, such as the Philadelphia Food Access Collaborative who started the Meals and More initiative. The Philadelphia Food Access Collaborative, with support from the Office of Homeless Services, works to unite community leaders, emergency meal providers, and volunteers to form a body that can share resources and ensures that all voices in the fight against hunger are heard. As the Meals and More Coordinator, I support the efforts of emergency meal providers all over the city. This support takes many forms and allows me to meet and work with meal providers of all backgrounds, representative of the rich diversity that makes up our city.
To best support meal providers and to promote safety and dignity for those accessing free meals around the city, I spend a lot of my time planning training events for meal site staff and volunteers. These trainings focus on things like CPR First Aid, trauma-informed care, and fundraising preparation. All this effort works to make meal sites self-sufficient and to create the best possible experience for anyone who needs a free meal.
When I am not working on planning trainings, I am collaborating with and guiding our office’s four incredible food policy interns, who each visit a weekly meal site and work on projects in the office. Their dedication to fighting food insecurity allows us to tackle major undertakings like our annual free meal provider survey which gets sent out to almost 200 organizations. We are then able to use the information collected to influence policy and create an extremely helpful list of free meals for distribution throughout the city. Our food policy interns will also be instrumental in the coming months to secure providers for the eventual meal service at the Hub of Hope.
As a VISTA assigned to fight food insecurity in a place where hunger is abundant, it is a busy and sometimes difficult job. What makes this effort possible and what keeps me optimistic is the constant collaboration between organizations and individuals around Philly who are determined to make sure everyone in our city can receive a meal. The Hub of Hope is just the most recent example of this beautiful team effort and, as a VISTA, I couldn’t be more proud.
Billy Hoffer is the Meals and More Coordinator for the Office of Homeless Services-Food Access Unit.
Are you interested in being a part of next year's SERVE Philadelphia VISTA Corps? Fill out an interest form today!