STREET OUTREACH SERVES FOOD AND FRIENDSHIP TO CITY’S HOMELESS
Every Wednesday night around ten to seven, just as the dinner crowd begins to thin, a group of Haverford students meets in the Dining Center to prepare a different meal. They assemble two types of sandwiches (peanut butter & jelly and cheese), fill containers with soup and hot chocolate, and load themselves and the food into a van headed for Logan Circle in Center City Philadelphia.
There, the regulars await: Fred, a booklover who offers reading recommendations (he loved The Life of Pi); Joe, a New York transplant who works a part-time construction job; and a former Las Vegas denizen who came to Philly after losing his job with Halliburton and who recently wrote an impassioned letter to both the mayor and the chief of police, challenging them to spend three nights on the street and get an understanding of what it’s like to be homeless. He so impressed City Hall that the mayor scheduled a personal meeting with him the week of Nov. 15. And there are always new faces mixed in among the familiar, eager not only for sustenance, but for the conversation and camaraderie the Haverford students bring to them each week.
Street Outreach, a student volunteer project sponsored by 8th Dimension, is about more than bringing food to the homeless each week, says co-organizer Jossi Fritz-Mauer ’06. “It’s about building relationships; the food is a gateway to the social interaction. It’s so easy to get caught in the ‘Haverbubble,’ and it’s important for us to connect with this part of the city.”
Fritz-Mauer and Grant Scott ’06, also an organizer, became involved with Street Outreach through former co-head and track teammate Scott Sargrad ’04. “It was exciting, to me, to interact with a segment of the population I might not have otherwise encountered,” says Fritz-Mauer, who also praises Street Outreach’s ability to bring together “like-minded students who want to provide a service to people often neglected by the city.” He and Scott receive enthusiastic responses to their weekly notification e-mails but can only take a dozen volunteers due to the size of the van.
Most students enjoy their experience enough to return week after week. “Many people expect it to run like a soup line,” says Scott, “and are surprised to see what it’s really like.”
“It’s a self-selecting volunteer opportunity,” says Fritz-Mauer, “because it takes initiative and commitment to go down to the city in the middle of the week, every week.”
With food-driven holidays on the horizon, Street Outreach volunteers are busier than ever. On Saturday, Dec. 11, 8th Dimension is sponsoring a holiday dinner; with the help of John Francone, director of Dining Services, and the Dining Center staff, they’ll create and serve 100 holiday dinners with as many trimmings as possible: turkey, potatoes, cranberry sauce, rolls, and more.
And on this day, like all the other Wednesdays, the emphasis will be on human connections as well as edible concoctions. “The great thing about Street Outreach is that it puts faces and names to Philadelphia’s homeless,” says Fritz-Mauer.