A nonprofit that started out small in 1976 has grown to offer several different levels of assistance to neighbors in Nicetown-Tioga.
The Nicetown-Tioga neighborhoods have increasingly grown, along with seeing an increase in the amount of its economically-challenged families. According the United States Census Bureau, as of 2012, more than 1 in 3 people in these neighborhoods live in poverty. This equates to 40 percent of the population in Nicetown-Tioga.
In an area where assistance needed, the nonprofit has grown to become a tremendous resource.
Bridgeway Inc., has grown to provide assistance in five areas: food, clothing, shelter, information and transportation to help promote lifelong skills for human development. These programs were developed to serve the youth, the underserved and the elderly.
In 1976, Bridgeway Inc. started out by offering a program called Sure Thing Services. Young children, starting at the age of 14, would work together to help clean up the neighborhood, rake up any leaves or assist with gardens throughout the neighborhood.
After the program was a hit, members of the community center added a Saturday Academy where children and seniors were educated on other cultures, as well as another program where adults learn basic office skills.
Director, Emily H. Rollins, started expanding with various teachings about food and health, as well as a small garden to teach youth about the health benefits to gardening.
“If we didn’t learn how to feed ourselves and teach each other how to eat well, we become victims of [an] intense hunger situation,” Rollins said.
After 10 years of being in business, the nonprofit opened a food pantry for residents. It is operated every Thursday.
The food pantry is one of five in the Nicetown-Tioga and one of 700 in the county of Philadelphia, according to the Coalition Against Hunger.
In order for the community-based center to run a food pantry, Rollins had to apply for a 501C3, which is a basic tax-exempt status that the IRS must approve. Depending on the estimated yearly expenses, there may be a filing fee that goes along with the application.The SHARE Resource Center is located at 2901 W. Hunting Park Avenue.
Before the application can be approved, the organization must have the center up to date on all guidelines. For Bridgeway, this required the members to raise enough money to obtain multiple freezers and proper food storage units. After the center was granted the 501C3, it continued to host events for donations in order to stock up on food for the community.
Current manager, Walter Lucas, has been volunteering as the food pantry manager for the past two years.
“Each and every week that we have supplies we make food available to the community at no expense. We usually have different canned foods, meat products, bread, rice and pasta; something that will last you one or two meals,” Lucas said.
The nonprofit works with Philabundance and SHARE to receive weekly deliveries to the pantry. Each week the food pantry orders as many cases of food products that they can fund either by donations or sometimes their own money.
Lucas started volunteering with the food pantry because he saw the need in the community for it. He also saw the lengths people in the community would go in order to eat and felt that a food pantry helps keep people from choosing the alternative.
“The food pantry today is a much needed item because of the economy. The economy has hit this and other neighborhoods of Philadelphia really hard. So if you do not have a place for people to come and get food for free, then there is the
other alternative that can sometimes involve the law and so forth. It is very important to have a food pantry in this neighborhood,” Lucas said.
For some residents like Anjolee Jefferson, who lived in the Nicetown neighborhood, saw the struggle that some families went through everyday in order to put dinner on the table.
“I am fortunate enough to say that my family and I have never had to go to a food pantry before. However, even though it was not as common as those who use food stamps, there were still people I came across who had to go to the food pantry,” Jefferson said.
Despite only knowing a few families personally, the 22-year-old strongly believes that there is a need for food pantries and community centers like Bridgeway.
“There is a strong need for these places in this neighborhood. There are still people who are in these extremely unfortunate situations and need all of these resources that are sometimes difficult to find,” Jefferson said.