Competition seeks to solve Philly’s hunger problem

Finalists in the Full City Challenge gather for a workshop at Drexel University Science Center to hone their pitches. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Finalists in the Full City Challenge gather for a workshop at Drexel University Science Center to hone their pitches. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Full City Challenge, a new Philadelphia-based competition, will crown its first winner next week.

The prize: $5,000 to pilot a project designed to tackle the city’s growing problem of hunger.

“Reports came out last year that indicated that food insecurity is actually rising here while it’s falling elsewhere. So, there are some really deep-seed challenges around access to economic opportunity, access to food,” said Nick Frontino, managing director of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, which helped launched the competition with the news site Billy Penn.

Nick Frontino of the Economy League presides over a workshop for participants in the Full City Challenge. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Between 2012 and 2017, hunger rates jumped 22 percent in Philadelphia, according to federal data crunched by Hunger Free America, a national nonprofit.

Nearly one in five people now struggle with hunger in Philadelphia, according to the report.

“At the same time, we have a booming food scene and a booming food economy here with really strong assets, a lot of expertise. And we’re looking for ways to connect that expertise and those assets to solutions that can help address those big challenges,” said Frontino.

Five finalists are vying for the $5,000, including Philly Food Rescue. The group is using a mobile app to save excess food from the trash.

Volunteers sign up to transport food from supermarkets and restaurants to area nonprofits that then distribute it to people in need. Brown’s ShopRites, Starr restaurants, and the Philadelphia Housing Authority are already partners.

Director Victoria Della Rocca said her group needs the money for an outreach campaign aimed at building a small army of volunteers.

Victoria Della Rocca of Philly Food Rescue pitches a plan to get food from donors to those who need it using an app called Food Rescue Hero. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“That’s our biggest challenge in the sense of making sure people are aware of it. Once people know that in 30 minutes or less, you can jump in, do something very simple like moving food from one space to another, and that impacts hunger and food waste, they want to be a part of it,” said Della Rocca.

Victory V Farms, another finalist, wants to use vertical farming techniques to grow and sell leafy greens and herbs to residents in low-income Philadelphia neighborhoods, as well as hospitals and universities in town.

The project would launch inside a 400 square-foot space in West Philadelphia, but expand into a network of eight farms, all housed in underutilized buildings.

Each farm would produce nearly 100 tons of produce each year and offer five living-wage jobs.

“When I look at Philadelphia, I can’t separate the challenges of jobs, education and food insecurity. These challenges are enormous, but they’re not insurmountable,” said Frank Sherman, managing director of First Light Project and co-founder of Victory V Farms.

Frank Sherman of Victory V Farms delivers a five minute pitch to grow leafy greens and herbs in underutilized buildings, creating living-wage jobs and fresh healthy food for underserved neighborhoods. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The winner of the Full City Challenge will be announced Tuesday after each group pitches a group of investors. Think “Shark Tank” without the snark.

The winning pilot will last six months, possibly longer if necessary.

Danya Henninger, editor of Billy Penn, said the competition will be a success even if the top project doesn’t pan out.

“A test, even if it doesn’t work, is useful. We learn something,” said Henninger.

WHYY is one of 22 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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