How can Philly use the food boom to address pervasive hunger and poverty?

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The story of food in Philadelphia right now is a tale of two cities.


Over the weekend, news spread about a crowdfunding campaign for a prominent Philly bartender. Near the end of her battle with cancer, she has no way to pay for pending medical or funeral bills — so must depend on charity, despite her Penn degree and successful career in one of the buzziest restaurant scenes in the country. The situation calls to mind another recent citywide effort, to raise money for a different popular bartender fighting back from a brutal car crash without a financial safety net.


Lack of benefits for hospitality workers is not exclusive to Philadelphia, but we do turn to GoFundMe for funerals more than other cities — and these examples highlight a pressing imbalance.


On one side: the restaurant boom, the craft beer and spirits explosions, the nation’s 14th busiest agricultural port, the bountiful harvests gleaned from acres and acres of fertile surrounding soil.


On the other: the biggest percentage of population living in poverty in any large US city, with nearly half of residents unable to make ends meet. Rising hunger to the tune of 22 percentover the past six years, while the rest of the country saw food insecurity drop. More than 40,000 adults here can’t find a job.


The stark contrast is apparent to anyone who cares to look — and Philly does have are some great people working to address the disparity. But it’s clear there’s more to be done.


With that in mind, we’re introducing the Full City Challenge.


Using food to lift up Philadelphia​


A joint initiative by the Economy League and Billy Penn, the Full City Challenge seeks to jumpstart solutions that leverage our region’s robust food economy to address the dual acute problems of hunger and poverty in Philadelphia.


Between Dec. 3, 2018, and Jan. 24, 2019, we’re accepting short proposals for initiatives, campaigns, social enterprises, technology platforms and other new solutions that use food, culinary or agricultural-based solutions to address pervasive hunger and its underlying causes for too many of our region’s residents.


Put simply, if you can think of a project that will harness the region’s food boom and use it to lift up more Philadelphians, we want to know what it is — and maybe even help you pilot your idea.


To help shape and refine promising proposals, select participants will gain access to the Economy League’s extensive network of advisors, policymakers and influencers as well as deep expertise about the Philadelphia region’s challenges and opportunities. Billy Penn will provide coverage of the whole process.


Then there’ll be a live pitch competition and party at Green Soul on Feb. 19 — think local version of social impact Shark Tank — with a panel of judges including Han Dynasty’s Han Chiang, United Way’s Bill Golderer, Nick Bayer of Saxbys, Anju Gupta of Reading Terminal Market and Ellen Yin of High Street Hospitality Group.

The winner of the whole shebang will receive a $5,000 mini-grant to advance a small-scale pilot — and if things work, additional pushes forward


Collaboration is key — as is spreading the word


What kind of proposals are we looking for? We’re particularly interested in food-related concepts that:


  • Attack the root causes of hunger and economic inequality (new research from Drexel shows a link between food insecurity and racism, for example)

  • Embrace creative approaches to collaboration and partnership (making connections across sectors and communities is our best hope for something new)

  • Can be piloted at a small scale (once we help you prove it works, we’ll help you go after bigtime funds)

  • Have the potential to be replicated or scaled (key if we want to have real impact)

  • Are not overly duplicative of services or programs already in place in the Philadelphia area

Projects of various scale already underway in Philly include the Philabundance Community Kitchen, which helps train returning citizens for culinary careers; The Rooster, a for-profit restaurant that donates all proceeds to feeding the hungry; and Food Connect, an app that finds good use for excess catered food, among others. People in other states and municipalitieshave debated adopting tax credits for food waste diversion, or set up online marketplaces to sell bruised produce.


We’ll write more about inspiring programs around the country in the coming weeks. What we need now is your help spreading the word.


We want this call for applications to reach all corners of Philadelphia. Print out this flyer and post it at your local cafe or work bulletin board. Share this graphic on Facebook and Instagram. Mention the Full CIty Challenge to your friends and colleagues.


Why are Billy Penn and the Economy League doing this in the first place? We want to support smart approaches and encourage strategic risk-taking in addressing complex social challenges. Philly’s rich food assets and economy — our great urban agriculture, vibrant restaurant scene, proximity to fertile farmland, and much more — exist alongside deep poverty and rising hunger.


We want to find ways to leverage the former to attack the latter, and we believe innovative ideas for doing that will come from you. Whatcha got? Bring it on.


Danya Henninger is Editor at Billy Penn, a Philadelphia local news site that is partnering with the Economy League on the Full City Challenge.