Since becoming the first African-American and female pastor of Solid Rock United Methodist Church in 2004, Reverend Margaret Powell has been dedicated to promoting nutritious education and combating city-wide hunger.
The church, located at 199 E. Tabor Rd., donates thousands of pounds of food each month to those in need through its partnership with SHARE, some of which comes from the community garden on the church’s grounds.
“SHARE is a state-funded project but we also have church members and myself,” Powell said. “We also contribute to the food and Philabundance. We also get deliveries from them and it’s a big, big project.”
Last summer, the congregation moved approximately 6,500 pounds of food, an amount that more than triples the 2,000-pound yearly requirement to partner with Philabundance.
“We decided to build a community garden, so we were also supplementing what we got from Philabundance with our own garden,” Powell said.
An orchard will soon join the church’s herb and vegetable garden as part of a partnership with the Philadelphia Orchard Project. The team will break ground next spring.
And the additional resources are certainly necessary, especially in Olney, where, according to Powell, the families are quite large.
“[Families have] six to eight children plus grandparents, then you have immigrant families that are aunts and uncles, grandparents, kids, everybody in one house, we’ve done meals for like, 10 in a family,” she said.
That’s right. In addition to holding a food bank of fresh produce, canned goods and occasionally meat on the second Saturday of each month, Solid Rock also prepares a hot meal every Thursday night, which mostly attracts children.
“I think about families that are working long, long hours just to put the food on the table,” Powell said. “Maybe they’re not making fancy dishes. I take time because, first of all, I love to cook, but I make nice meals. There are a lot of children who are hungry here.”
“You would think that because there’s a school right across the street and they’re serving breakfast and lunch, that children would be more or less satisfied if the parent could give them dinner,” she continued. “But no. There’s still a lot of children coming to school hungry in the morning. They want home cooked meals, they want something momma or daddy made, something that feels like love.”
Solid Rock also provides emergency hunger services. When those in need contact Philabundance, Stop Hunger Now or the Philadelphia Welcome Center, they are referred to the Olney church, where they can – resources permitting – receive emergency food. Powell said the church serves about four or five families every other week seeking emergency services, mostly from the same zip code.
Regardless of how those in need are receiving their food, Powell has instituted a no-line rule.
“They come in, they sit down, they talk with one another, they talk with church members and they feel like it’s a restaurant, Powell said. “There’s something social about eating anyway. It’s very relational.”
On Saturday, Oct. 12, the ministry saw a huge influx of people seeking emergency services, which Powell attributed to a state-wide glitch in the SNAP system.
“I was literally shopping for my own groceries in ShopRite and an announcement came on that in the entire state of Pennsylvania, there’s a glitch,” Powell said. “People just left their baskets and walked out of the store, full baskets of food, ’cause that was the only way they could pay for their food.”
According to PennLive, a routine backup system test by Xerox “sparked technical problems” that shut down Pennsylvania’s and 16 other states’ electronic benefit transfer systems. Service has since been restored.
As of June 2013, there are approximately 472,196 people using food stamps in Philadelphia County, according to the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. That is nearly one-third the county’s population. According to Philabundance, hunger affects nearly 900,000 people in the Delaware Valley.
Powell acknowledged that Philadelphia’s hunger problem is a multifaceted issue.
“Until we can assist people to get work, then we have to settle for the Band-aid,” she said. “What’s the other alternative? They have to eat, and if they don’t have a job, they can’t buy food. And if they can’t get a job, some because of education, or ex-offenders or whatever the reason is, if they can’t get work, then they can’t get food. It’s a tremendous issue.”