PHILADELPHIA – Nutritious meals cooked with locally grown vegetables to combat food insecurity, street cleanup groups that bring neighbors together, and programs for local youth to learn about farming and other nature-based careers are among initiatives funded by Community Green Grants from Penn Medicine as part of the Deeply Rooted Collaborative, which is a joint initiative from Penn Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and led by the Penn Urban Health Lab.
Community Green Grants support residents and leaders as they join together to care for, celebrate in, and appreciate nature in neighborhoods in West and Southwest Philadelphia. The grant awardees, decided by a panel of community partners, drive initiatives to support vacant lot cleanup, community space programing, job training and education, and more. A full list of awardees can be found here.
One awardee has been fighting food insecurity since March 2020. The People’s Kitchen, a collaborative of chefs, students, and community members, started serving fresh, nutritious meals to community members for free to combat the growing hunger crisis. Led by Benjamin Miller and Chef Aziza Young, the organization grows their own produce in an urban farm in the Kingsessing neighborhood, and prepares and distributes over 100 free meals every day to community members in South and Southwest Philadelphia. With this grant, The People’s Kitchen will purchase much-needed processing equipment for its kitchen, and will be able to make additional hires to work on its urban farm, which grows fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, berries, okra, lima beans, sunchokes, and even goji berries.
“The pandemic exposed a crisis of food insecurity in our community, but it existed before, and still exists. While we serve more than 100 meals a day, that only scratches the surface of folks experiencing food insecurity,” said Miller. “This grant will help us reach more of our neighbors who deserve access fresh, nutritious meals.”
In addition to bringing fresh food to the community, the Community Green Grants are funding efforts to clean local parks through an effort launched by West Philadelphia’s Gweny (Love) Owens. Growing up in the Mantua neighborhood, Owens recalls organizing neighborhood children and bringing them to clean up local parks. After college, Owens returned to her hometown to play a similar role. Through Mantua Worldwide Community, Inc., she established “Clean, Green, and Serene,” a program that encourages neighbors to come together to clean up the streets in their respective neighborhoods. What started with Owens knocking on her neighbors’ doors and asking them to join her outside with a broom and a dustpan has expanded to eight different committees in Mantua and Powelton Village. Her grant will help the program expand to the Mill Creek neighborhood.
“We have started to create a sense of community among neighbors that didn’t exist before,” Owens said. “People who have been next door neighbors for years met for the first time while cleaning together, and not only are our streets cleaner, but our committees feel more like surrogate families.”
Another effort supported by this round of the Community Green Grants aims to support local youth. Akhenaton S. Mikell knows the power of creating safe spaces for youth to gather and find community, as the founder and executive director of Imani Star Development, a community development organization in Cobb’s Creek with the goal to service, educate, and empower neighbors in underserved communities. With this grant, Mikell will plan programming for local youth, ages 7 to 17, to educate on the value of greenspaces, and training on gardening and farming.
“Many youth in the neighborhood have heard about gardening and farming, but it is rare that someone has taken the time to show them what they can do themselves or teach them about career opportunities,” Mikell said. “We want to provide them with as much information as possible about as many opportunities as we can, so that they can be empowered to follow their interests, whether that’s growing their own herb garden, or pursuing farming or another green-related career.”
These programs represent three of the 21 grant awardees who were selected from over 40 applicants, and selected by a panel of community partners and experts. Community partners include the Southwest Community Development Corporation, ACHIEVEability, Sister Clara Muhammad Community Development Corporation, Community of Compassion Community Development Corporation, and an expert from Global Thinking Initiatives. The community partners, along with the Penn Urban Health Lab, evaluated proposals based on their impact on the community, creativity of the proposal, and feasibility of the project’s timeline and budget.
A key tenant of Deeply Rooted is to allow community members to determine the needs of neighborhoods, and for them to be the ones to direct funding and resources. These community partners were specifically selected to review the grant applications, as they have applied for grants themselves, and have clear insight into what projects will have the greatest impact for each specific neighborhood and community.
The Community Green Grants are awarded bi-annually. A new call for submissions will open in the fall, at urbanhealthlab.org. Proposed grant activities and programs must directly benefit one of four initial Deeply Rooted communities in Philadelphia: Kingsessing, Cobbs Creek, Haddington, or Mill Creek. Deeply Rooted solicited proposals in one of four areas—innovation, improvement, organizing, and entrepreneurship—related to greenspace or nature.
Deeply Rooted launched in May 2022, led by the Penn Urban Health Lab and with Penn Medicine and CHOP’sHealthier Together Initiative as the initial funders, and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society serving as the lead strategic greenspace implementation partner. Named Deeply Rooted to convey the depth, strength, and scope of the work, this initiative has a goal of increasing greenspace through greening of over 1,000 vacant lots, planting more than 1,000 trees, and building mini-parks designed by the community. In addition, Deeply Rooted has a focus on nature-based workforce and leadership development and promotion of environmental justice initiatives.
Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, excellence in patient care, and community service. The organization consists of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Penn’s Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school.
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