Cuisine for all ages

Luther­an Set­tle­ment House meal pro­gram in Fishtown bridges gen­er­a­tion­al gaps while serving the com­munity.

  • IMAGES COURTESY OF RACHEL WINSBERG Community effort: Volunteers (above) from Thrivent, the Senior Center and the afterschool Program work together at the community meal event. IMAGE COURTESY OF RACHEL WINSBERG

  • Henry Williams is a member of the afterschool program. IMAGES COURTESY OF RACHEL WINSBERG

The Luther­an Set­tle­ment House (LSH), 1340 Frank­ford Ave., a com­munity-based non­profit serving chil­dren, adults and fam­il­ies liv­ing in Phil­adelphia, re­cently ad­ded an­oth­er vi­tal ser­vice to Fishtown and the sur­round­ing area: a com­munity meal pro­gram.

Thanks to an idea from the Hungry to Healthy pro­gram co­ordin­at­or, Chloe Whar­nick, and food and fund­ing from Thriv­ent Fin­an­cial, the Inter-Gen­er­a­tion­al Farm­ing and Nu­tri­tion Af­ter­school pro­gram came to­geth­er and the idea to life came to life.

“We’ve had this idea for a long time, but we were lack­ing the re­sources,” said Sam­antha Merkt, dir­ect­or S.A.F.E. (Stu­dents Aim­ing For Ex­cel­lence), the af­ter­school pro­gram at LSH. Merkt, who has been with the or­gan­iz­a­tion since the end of Decem­ber, designs and ex­ecutes pro­grams for loc­al teens based on nu­tri­tion, cook­ing, so­cial justice, health, and oth­er rel­ev­ant top­ics.

In ad­di­tion to the sup­port from Thriv­ent Fin­an­cial, the meals are pos­sible be­cause of a re­cently in­stalled com­mer­cial-grade demon­stra­tion kit­chen on the first floor of LSH, which was fun­ded by Penn Treaty Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict as part of a lar­ger $1.5 mil­lion renov­a­tion pro­ject. The pro­ject also ex­pan­ded food cup­board stor­age ca­pa­city and massively in­creased food dis­tri­bu­tion to low-in­come Fishtown res­id­ents.

The first com­munity meal took place on Thursday, Feb. 4, and en­gaged in­di­vidu­als ex­per­i­en­cing home­less­ness. Some of the teens in the af­ter­school pro­gram had ex­per­i­enced or been touched by home­less­ness them­selves and wanted to cater their ef­forts to­ward that pop­u­la­tion.

“The kids all knew where home­less people slept and where to find them,” Merkt said. “They all wanted to give back to that com­munity of people.”

Aside from  ac­tu­ally help­ing pre­pare and serve the din­ner, the teens read po­etry that touched upon con­cepts of home and home­less­ness.

Teens from all around Phil­adelphia come to the af­ter­school pro­gram and LSH typ­ic­ally sees about 12 teens join in per day, with ap­prox­im­ately 18 to 20 in the pro­gram. 

Al­though some are con­nec­ted to LSH be­cause of their par­ents’ in­volve­ment in an­oth­er pro­gram offered there, or their own home­less­ness, oth­ers are teens who go to school or live in the area and want to give back. 

The com­munity meals pro­gram gives the teens a sense of “own­er­ship” in their com­munity, and teaches lead­er­ship, goal set­ting and oth­er in­valu­able skills through ser­vice, Merkt said.

Plus, the teens en­joy work­ing with the seni­ors.

“The idea came from a place of people want­ing to give back,” Merkt said.  “But as we can see with the second meal, this is also something the com­munity needs, oth­er­wise we wouldn’t have people show­ing up.”

The second meal, which brought in more than 30 people, took place on Thursday, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. The seni­or cen­ter mem­bers and teens pre­pared a tra­di­tion­al Ir­ish beef stew, Ir­ish soda bread, and served treats donated from Little Baby’s Ice Cream for dessert.

“Hol­i­days are really hard for people who are home­less, and don’t have fam­ily or any­one to cel­eb­rate with,” Merkt said. “This is a really good time for us to put something to­geth­er, and build a com­munity where people don’t have a com­munity to cel­eb­rate with.”

The staff and seni­ors pre­pared the meal, and the teens joined in around 4 p.m. and star­ted plat­ing and serving the food to their diners.

Aside from build­ing com­munity, the ini­ti­at­ive seeks to pro­mote healthy eat­ing.

The com­munity meals seek to util­ize the fresh fruits and ve­get­ables that are grown in LSH’s urb­an farm across the street. Staff at LSH  hope the garden will be in full bloom and pro­du­cing food by the be­gin­ning of May. Thanks to a healthy food grant from Wal Mart, LSH was provided with all of the tools they need to main­tain the garden.

Next up on the menu for the com­munity meals pro­gram: ve­get­ari­an chili, rice, corn bread, and all the fix­ings. 

LSH staff and vo­lun­teers are hop­ing for a crowd of 30 to 50 people at their up­com­ing din­ner on Thursday, April 28, from 5 to 6 p.m.

“Every­one is wel­come,” said Merkt.

On the day of the din­ners, the staff and af­ter­school group head out in the neigh­bor­hood and en­cour­age people to join them at the free meal. 

Al­though their word-of-mouth mar­ket­ing seems to gen­er­ate the best res­ults, the group also posts fly­ers, sends emails, and can­vasses loc­al busi­nesses for sup­port and help in spread­ing the word.

“There’s such a di­verse range of people that come to the meal. Some people are home­less, some people are low-in­come, high-in­come, some people are on our board of dir­ect­ors who want to help,” Merkt said. “To come to­geth­er and eat a meal on the most ba­sic level is really nice.” 

To donate to or vo­lun­teer at the com­munity meal, email smerkt@luther­anset­tle­ment.org.

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