For most of the year, those who operate food pantries and soup kitchens perform a thankless task and largely go unrecognized. That is what makes our annual Hunger Fighter Awards breakfast one of our favorite events. It celebrates hundreds of emergency food providers who help to put food on the table of our neighbors in need.
This year's Hunger Fighter Awards, held on November 4 at the Hilton on City Avenue, was emceed by radio personality Patty Jackson. Patty has been a great partner of ours and helped us this year to help spread the word about the Thomas' Walk Against Hunger and our Summer Meals Hotline. We were thrilled to have her as the emcee and given that it was her birthday the morning of the event, we made a donation in her name to the Eagles Online Healthy Food Drive which runs through the end of the month.
Rev. Donald Moore of Mount Carmel Baptist Church gave a powerful keynote address, sharing his own experience with food insecurity and calling on everyone to get involved and work together to fight hunger.
In addition to the award winners, the event also celebrated the culmination of the Thomas' Nourishing Neighbors campaign. This campaign saw both ACME Markets and Giant Food Stores donate a portion of all sales of Thomas' products to the Coalition, which resulted in a $75,000 contribution to support our work! THANK YOU to Thomas', ACME and Giant for their continued commitment in the fight against hunger in our region.
Below find a list of this year's award winners:
Thomas' Nourishing Neighbors Volunteer of the Year: Leola Highsmith of Grace Community Church
When Ms. Highsmith retired from a career as a business instructor in the Philadelphia School System, she continued her good work by spending her days serving her Germantown community and coordinating the food pantry at Grace Community Christian Center. Under her leadership, the pantry serves 1,200 people in need of food each month. Ms. Highsmith, along with the unwavering support of her pastor, Rev. Dr. Quintin L. Robertson, and loving church community volunteers, makes sure that the pantry doors are open every week day from 10am-1pm year-round, no small feat for a volunteer run program. In addition to making sure the shelves are stocked with food for Grace Community's pantry guests, Ms. Highsmith also provides additional services to her guests ranging from educational seminars to tax assistance. Those who know Ms. Highsmith are struck by her commitment and dedication to feeding anyone who comes through Grace Community's doors. They also see her as someone who is extremely versatile and has the ability to handle any type of situation. Deacon Tyrone Beach has served as a witness to her good work and said that the church and community "see her as someone who has a heart for taking care of and feeding people."
Nourishing Neighbors Community Impact Award: Julie Hirshey of The Philadelphia Eagles Community Cares Partners Program
In 2013, when The Philadelphia Eagles decided they wanted to broaden their impact on our community, they selected five non-profit organizations for a full year of support, and The Eagles Community Care Partners program was started. Since it was created, Julie Hirshey has been its leader. The Coalitions' experience as an Eagles Care Partner has been significant, thanks to Julie's support. Julie arranged for an on-line healthy food drive that has brought in thousands of pounds of nutritious food; for Eagles player Jon Dorenbos to record a summer meals call that helped connect children to free meals in their neighborhood; for Eagles Mascot SWOOP to attend countless Coalition events and that The Eagles supported our annual Thomas' Walk Against Hunger and state-wide School Breakfast Challenge. Julie even arranged for The Coalition to get a new conference table to replace one that was falling apart. Whatever The Coalition was working on, Julie supported. And that support has made a real and lasting difference.
Community Partner Award: Culinary Literacy Center, Free Library of Philadelphia
In 2014, The Free Library of Philadelphia launched the Culinary Literacy Center helping to change the way Philadelphians think about food, nutrition, and literacy. The Culinary Literacy Center is a commercial-grade kitchen that serves as both a classroom and dining space for the city. Much more than a cooking school, teachers bring students to a hands-on lab, math skills are taught by measuring, reading through recipes, and science by seeing what pops out at the end of the cooking process. Chefs of all ages can experiment with new foods, new tools, and new ideas. In 2015 The Coalition and Culinary Literacy Center partnered on the now annual Good Food For All Conference, providing hands on workshops on issues of nutrition and food security for pantry providers, clients and anti-hunger agencies.
Community Partner Against Hunger Award: Lynn & Shelly Liss
Lynn and Shelly Liss have been volunteering with The Coalition Against Hunger for over 14 years! They have served those in need by helping people apply for SNAP at Healthy Center 10 in the northeast section of the city, personally connecting hundreds of Philadelphians to SNAP and to food resources, but also to employment, healthcare and utility resources. They have represented our agency at countless community events, rain or shine. Their commitment to making their community stronger, one person at a time, is incredible.
Community Partner Against Hunger Award: Danny Mignacca of Philadelphia County Assistance Office
Danny Mignacca is a lifelong resident of the city, except during his time serving our country in the United States Marine Corps. He has dedicated the last 25 years of his life supporting people in our city who need help, first as a case worker, then as a supervisor, and currently the Executive Director and Area Manager of Philadelphia County Assistance Office. Danny takes great pride in being a lifelong Philadelphian and serving the citizens of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth. He has worked tirelessly within the department to instill an expectation that each and every individual who comes in contact the Philadelphia County Assistance Office receives the best possible customer service. He has not only been focused on responding to client needs, but also ensures staff receives the necessary training and support to serve clients.
Karen Wilson "More than Just Food" Award: First African Baptist Church
For over twenty years, the food pantry at First African Presbyterian Church has been dedicated towards nourishing its community. To address the need for prepared meals in the community, the church offers a weekly meal where their neighbors can sit down together. They quickly learned that many of their neighbors needed more than the food that they were providing, so in partnership with medical, nursing and social work students from the University of Pennsylvania, they began hosting free medical and social work clinics.
In an effort to address the high rates of diet-related diseases in their community, the church hosts free nutrition and cooking classes offered by Penn State Cooperative Extension, and partnered with Urban Tree Initiative to build a community garden. Due to this unique menu of programs offered in their West Philadelphia community, First African Presbyterian Church is truly bringing more than just food to the table.
Pat Temple-West Award: Megha Kulshreshtha of Food Connect
When Megha Kulshreshtha saw that restaurants were throwing away food at the end of the night, she wanted to help get that food to those who needed it – hungry individuals and families. It was from this desire to help connect people with food to the people who needed the food that Food Connect was born.
In addition to her day job, Megha created an app which connects donated food to pantries and food banks able to accept it, through the services of volunteers who do the pick-up and delivery. Megha’s idea had the support of many anti-hunger groups, including The Coalition, Share, Philabundance, and The City of Philadelphia – who meet regularly leading up the July’s Democratic National Convention – where the brand new app was tested out. The app has helped to rescue 400 lbs of food each week and has brought a whole new way to fight hunger to our community!
Thank you to all of the men and women who continue to serve on the front lines in the fight against hunger!