Step Up to the Plate to offer Christmas meals in Kensington

A volunteer prepares a meal via Catering by Design

A volunteer prepares a meal via Catering by Design. (Jeffrey Holder/JEH Creatives)

When the coronavirus pandemic hit Philadelphia in the spring, a coalition of local nonprofits teamed up to help those disproportionately affected by a rising hunger crisis.

Step Up to the Plate — a collaborative effort by Broad Street Ministry  Prevention Point Philadelphia, and SEAMAAC, along with the City of Philadelphia — was originally billed as a seven-week stint.

Now, more than nine months later, the cadre of nonprofits is still serving Philadelphians across three different city sites. As of last Friday, Step Up to the Plate had provided more than 400,000 meals to people experiencing housing and food insecurity.

On an ordinary day, lunches come in the form of bagged meals. On Christmas Day, a newly installed warming tent will be used to offer special hot meals for more than 500 people.

The holiday affair will take place at 12:30 p.m. at Prevention Point Philadelphia’s site at Ruth and Clearfield streets in Kensington, where a 40-by-70-foot tent will allow for physical distancing.

The buffet-style meal, created by Catering by Design, will come with seating time limits and abide by coronavirus restrictions set by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

Beyond Christmas

Since the start of the pandemic, millions more Americans — feeling the impact of illness and job loss — are turning to food banks and anti-hunger nonprofits.

A recent Associated Press data analysis found a sharp rise in the amount of food distributed by U.S. food banks. Feeding America, the nation’s largest anti-hunger organization, handed out 4.2 billion meals from March through October. According to AP’s analysis, nearly 57% more food was distributed from Feeding America’s network of food banks in the third quarter compared with the same period in 2019.

Step Up to the Plate volunteers serve meals at SEAMAAC's South Philly location
Step Up to the Plate volunteers serve meals at SEAMAAC’s South Philly location. (Jeffrey Holder/JEH Creatives)

Jose Benitez, Prevention Point Philadelphia’s executive director, said Step Up’s meals open the door to many other services his organization provides.

At all meal sites, volunteers offer COVID-19-related health care services, resources for those experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, referrals to social, medical, and behavioral services, personal protective equipment distribution, and civic outreach engagements such as assistance with stimulus checks and voter registration.

Step Up aims to expand its program through March 2021, a $1.4 million commitment. So far, the group has raised about $1.25 million — leaving $150,000 to go.

A Step Up to the Plate volunteer holds a "free lunch" sign at Prevention Point Philadelphia's Kensington location.
A Step Up to the Plate volunteer holds a “free lunch” sign at Prevention Point Philadelphia’s Kensington location. (Michael E. Reali)

To better aid its volunteers and its visitors, Step Up, like most vendors pivoting to outdoor-only service, is turning to winterization efforts.

The team’s South Philadelphia location, run by SEAMAAC outside Francis Scott Key Elementary School at Eighth and Wolf streets, is being outfitted with a massive warming tent like its Kensington sister site.

Thoai Nguyen, CEO of SEAMAAC, recognized the difficulty of entering the winter season but said, “We are up for the challenge.”

Nguyen added that SEAMAAC “will continue to provide meals, COVID testing, and other vital services … as we all work our way out of the pandemic and continue our ongoing work towards justice and equity.”

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Further information

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 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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