Food insufficiency is a severe issue that impacts nearly every community in Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia alone, there are nearly 400,000 people living in poverty.
To combat this issue, the Exploring Nutrition Project (ENP) was started to address hunger needs within the surrounding community of La Salle University. ENP operates under the following mission:
Exploring Nutrition aims to create a model by which urban universities can, in partnership with local businesses, community organizations, and religious institutions, utilize collective resources and expertise to have a positive impact on their neighborhood’s health and nutritional well-being.
Dr. Marjie Allen, chair of Integrative Studies, discussed the ways in which ENP addresses health and nutrition. About four years ago, the La Salle faculty came together and wanted to pool La Salle’s resources to help the community.
“We wanted to give La Salle an identification as caring about hunger and that was the beginning of Exploring Nutrition,” said Allen.
The first issue neighborhood residents faced was lack of access to a grocery store. Many residents had to take public transportation or walk to grocery stores and then transport their heavy groceries back to their homes. La Salle donated the land that Fresh Grocer was built on, which fulfilled the need of a closer grocery store for the community, but it did not alleviate the hunger issues.
“Fresh produce is extremely expensive. The average family income in our neighborhood is $24,000,” said Allen.
A healthy diet consists of three to five cups of vegetables per day; however, many people in the community cannot afford to purchase produce regularly. ENP holds an Easter produce drive to provide free produce and nutritional education to the community to reinforce how important it is to eat fresh produce. The produce drive strives to reach people who are in the most need; however, it is difficult for ENP to know who needs food the most. The project partners with local faith-based centers because people know and trust their own religious centers.
Religious centers in Philadelphia serve as wonderful resources for those suffering from hunger. Nearly 100 churches in Philadelphia offer food assistance. These centers serve as safe, judgment-free zones where people in need can come together for a hot meal, a bag of canned goods or even just a cup of coffee.
The Exploring Nutrition Project and countless religious centers are working to help relieve Philadelphians of their hunger.