Interfaith dished out soup and hunger awareness at the Empty Bowl Dinner

A fundraising dinner to help the homeless attracted more than 1,500 people last night in Chestnut Hill. The event, held at Chestnut Hill College (CHC), was the second of two Empty Bowl Dinners held this month by the Northwest Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network (NPIHN), which provides subsidized housing for people in their program, as well as information about budgeting and assistance programs.

Rachel Falkove, executive director of NPIHN, was delighted at the large turnout. “This dinner shows what the power of community is all about,” said Falkove, “everything here has been donated.”

Artisan donors and local organizations handcrafted bowls for the event, which were given out as a reminder that not everyone has a bowl filled with warm soup to eat. Local restaurants also played a part in preparing a variety of soups and baked bread.

Students, faculty and staff at CHC volunteered their time and efforts to serve soup and drinks, including the women’s basketball team who participate every year as part of their community service.

Penn students from the Wharton School of Business helped to organize the event including soup solicitation, kids activities and decorations. The group of 10 students started planning the event in October.

Sandrine Nkuranga, a Penn finance and healthcare management major, was enthusiastic to be a part of the event. “When we were picking projects we found this to be an important cause. We all wanted to get involved.”

City Soup, a hunger awareness program developed by an interfaith grassroots collective, was on-deck to discuss its latest campaign. The project involves sending out 50,000 orange postcards to Mayor Nutter.

Diane Loucke, creator of City Soup, says 50,000 postcards have been printed and given out to colleges and congregations throughout the Philadelphia area.

“The idea is that if you see statistics on this card, you will see it’s like a tsunami has hit our region,” said Loucke. “It’s time to get serious about ending hunger.”

The postcard reads: “Dear Mayor Nutter: As a person of faith living in a region where so many go hungry, I am compelled to act. In Philadelphia alone, the numbers are devastating: One in four Philadelphians lives below the poverty line, including one in three children; Nearly one in three of our neighbors uses the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to purchase groceries; Food pantries are stretched thin. The number of people accessing food cupboards has tripled in less than four years, and there is not enough to feed the growing ranks of hungry children and families; Nearly 500,000 people in Philadelphia and 1 million in the region are now relying on food cupboards.

Hunger is no longer a silent crisis. We don’t need more food pantries and soup kitchens. We need a plan with policies to ensure that people in our city will have access to affordable, nutritious food.

Loucke says that hunger is a solvable problem, and that the people that are hungry can be anyone in the community.

Kimberly Paldino, former member of NPIHN’s program, attended the dinner and talked about being homeless three years ago.

“Even though I’m no longer in the shelter, I’ve made lifelong friends,” said Paldino. “It’s great to be here, connecting again with people at this dinner.”

Paldino says that people are not aware that homelessness and hunger doesn’t just stem from problems with drug addiction. She was a working single parent with two children when she became homeless, and her income did not meet her needs.

Tasha Taylor, a current member of NPIHN’s program, entered the program after facing domestic abuse. Taylor says the group has provided shelter, food, clothing and support for herself and her two-year-old daughter. “If there were more organizations like this, people would do much better,” she said.

Taylor is currently working and volunteering, and also has plans to attend college this summer. “I try help out as best as I can,” said Taylor, “because I know how it feels to not have food and a home.”

For NPIHN, the dinner was a huge success not just because the soups were delicious, but mainly because of the community connections that were being made across the dinner tables. Falkove see’s the event as a huge opportunity to draw awareness to the hunger epidemic in Philadelphia.

“This dinner is symbolic of the many hands and hearts in our community,” said Falkove. “Combined together, we can make a difference.”

To learn more, please visit:

Northwest Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network (NPIHN): www.philashelter.org

City Soup: http://www.hungercoalition.org/citysoup

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