Farm foods transform local ‘food drought’

St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children aims to address obesity in the community with a new project.

St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children aims to address obesity in the community with a new project.

Video by Ian Rose and Breland Moore. Edited by Brittani Miller and Rachel Stewart.

St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children recently launched Farm to Families, a program that offers fresh food to families in North Philadelphia.

The program allows families to pick up and place orders from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Temple Presbyterian Church at Seventh and Thompson streets.

“We kept hearing the word ‘obesity’ in the community of North Philadelphia, and we were trying to figure out ways in which to address obesity,” said Jan Shaeffer, the executive director of St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children.

Shaeffer said many families in North Philadelphia can only afford inexpensive, buy-in-bulk foods, which tend to be high in starch and sodium. For those who are unable to reach grocery stores due to costs of transportation or walking disabilities, corner stores are the only alternative.

In collaboration with the Women’s Community Revitalization Project, St. Christopher’s began brainstorming ways to address the “food drought” in North Philadelphia. That brainstorming became Farm to Families.

“We decided to bring all of our resources together so families can access an affordable, weekly share of fresh food,” Shaeffer said. “Our goal is to achieve the ideal penetration and to get as many families in North Philly as possible to access this new program.”

Any family that lives or works in the area can access Farm to Families’ resources. One week before pickup, families can place orders for whichever package they desire.

Toby Altman, a West Philadelphia resident who works in North Philadelphia, has participated in the program for the last six weeks.

“This place is awesome for the community. I don’t make a lot of money, and it really helps me out and offers high-quality foods for a great price,” Altman said. “North Philadelphia has a food desert, and this program definitely helps people out who can’t afford to eat the right foods.”

Items in one $5 box might include: one pound of yams, two pounds of empire apples, one head of cabbage, one head of romaine lettuce and one bunch of beets. In a $10 or $15 box, one dozen eggs and one poultry and yogurt product may be included, along with everything in the $5 box.

At the Temple Presbyterian Church, WCRP member Elizabeth Ferrer helps distribute food, operate pickups and collect money.

Ferrer said the program accommodates approximately 50 families a week. Most come between 5 and 6 p.m.

Rebekah McLendon, an East Kensington resident and a mother of two, called the program “a great public service.”

“This is my third box,” she said. “It gives you a better feeling knowing that the food you’re eating actually came from a farm, not a grocery store.”

“With Farm to Families, you only pay for the cost of the food,” Shaeffer said. “All the hidden costs of trucks, lighting and parking that you find in a grocery store aren’t involved in the payment from the families.”

For those who cannot easily access the location, free bike delivery is provided by Neighborhood Bike Works’ youth cyclists. In addition, Lindsey Rosenberg, a volunteer at the church with Farm to Families, provides cooking lessons and incorporates foods from the boxes to make dishes for families to try.

Started in 1988, the children’s foundation aims to increase health and life in North Philadelphia, with a focus on making sure “the child is provided for and to try and provide what the child needs to be healthy and strong,” Shaeffer said.

“There’s something special about this program,” she added. “It allows families to be personable with their foods. You make the extra effort, and you know it’s great and fresh. I mean, it even has dirt on it – you can’t get any fresher.”

While normal hours for this program are 4-8 p.m., the program shifted the hours to 3-7 p.m. in response to the cold weather.

Farm to Families will also provide a special Thanksgiving box, which will include holiday staples at a reasonable cost for participants.

Alyssa Saylor can be reached at

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