UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – The People’s Kitchen, run by the Penn State Center Philadelphia and other Penn State partners, received the 2021 Penn State Award for community engagement and scholarship. The effort is led by Shivaani Selvaraj, director, and Carly Pourzand, community engagement specialist, both at the Penn State Center in Philadelphia.
The award recognizes a project that best exemplifies Penn State as a “committed institution,” which the Kellogg Commission defines as an institution that has rethought the functions of teaching, research and extension, and service to engage in an even more sympathetic and productive way with its communities.
Based in Philadelphia, The People’s Kitchen is a food security and workplace project designed to foster community partnerships that promote community organization and leadership development. Together, community members work with chefs and restaurant workers to prepare approximately 1,075 meals per week. These meals are distributed to food insecure Philadelphians.
The People’s Kitchen builds on five years of pilot projects at Penn State Center Philadelphia to empower communities to be part of the solution to food insecurity. The project brings together several community partners to address issues related to hunger, urban agriculture, development and displacement and the rights of migrant workers.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the community saw food insecurity on the rise as many members of the restaurant industry were underemployed or unemployed. In Philadelphia, food insecurity increased from nearly 4% to around 20% while unemployment reached 17.7% in August 2020. The project relied on the support of these workers, community leaders and experts from Penn State, allowing all three to benefit from the effort.
“This collaboration increases the capacity of community and professional leaders to self-determine in the design and implementation of change processes,” said one proponent. “The coordination and facilitation of these programs is vital to the continued success of the Center by being responsive to current events and gaining an understanding of local knowledge needs, strengths and opportunities. “
In addition to serving food, community members transformed unused land to grow food in more than 70 raised beds.
Additional partners in the effort include Penn State Brandywine; Penn State Abington; College of education, university park; College of Agricultural Sciences, University Park; and College of Health and Human Development, University Park.