Kathy Marshall self-enlisted in the anti-hunger movement at a time when she was literally building her life up from the ashes. Marshall's home burned down in 2016, not long after she was connected to assistance resources and chose to extend the information that was shared to her with others 0in her community. In the years since becoming a VIP (Victory in Partnership) Project member Marshall has delivered food, clothing and other supporting resources to neighbors fighting hunger in Philadelphia, Haiti and Africa as well as built her own Coalition of hunger fighters. Coalition Communications Coordinator, Antonio Boone spoke with the chef, turned hunger fighter about her commitment to fighting food insecurity.
CAH: How long have you been a VIP member?
Marshall: I’ve been a VIP member for 4 or 5 years, wow I haven’t been counting [laughs]. I’ve always been a chef and worked with food, anytime my church had an event I would coordinate the kitchen and get the food together. I wanted to start sooner but I had a fire in 2016 so that pushed things back. After my house was rebuilt I said ‘I could really do the Share Food Program’ and through Share that’s how I met brother Derek Felton (Coalition Community Organizer). He told me to get back in touch with Share to start getting deliveries and that's how it started.
CAH: What motivated you to continue providing meals?
Marshall: There's such a need for food. You’d be surprised at the people that struggle getting bills paid, they have kids and there's not enough money to buy food. I saw that when I lived in South Philly, I used to see how people struggle with food. I used to help two of my neighbors who had kids. Sometimes I would make breakfast and send it over to them, they were just so appreciative of it. The joy you get when you give somebody something and you see how happy they are and how thankful they are, it's such a good feeling.
CAH: What challenges has your program encountered during the pandemic?
Marshall: When I was storing food during the church, oh my God it was awful. Squirrels got into the church. I don’t know how many got in there but you could see their footprints in the crumbs. It looked like a whole family sat at the table with a loaf of bread and passed it around. When that happened I knew I had to buy plastic storage bins, so everything could be closed and contained.
CAH: How has your training in the VIP Project prepared you to provide meals during the pandemic?
Marshall: It helped a lot, I’m kind of a quiet person and Derek would say “you gotta speak up, you gotta speak out if you need things”. What's the saying ‘only the squeaky wheel gets the oil’? That's what he said to me, he's a very encouraging person that follows protocol. Any support or doubt that I have with anything, I give him a call and he has an answer for me. The Share program, because I’m a small pantry, when the pandemic happened they stopped delivering to me. Then I was getting food from the food rescue on Wednesday’s once a month, but since the pandemic happened we’ve been going every week. Initially I only gave out food at the church. The first week the city shut down, Share called me and said they wanted to make a delivery. When I met them at the church the whole vestibule of the church was filled with food. I don’t have a lot of storage food, so I said ‘Oh my God, what am I gonna do with this food?’ but because it was a nice day, I put a few tables outside. I made a few calls for people to come and help me and we gave out all that food that day. To the neighbors. To people walking by, driving by we gave it all away. I have a neighbor that sends food to Haiti. I give her dry foods like rice and pasta stuff that can transport without getting spoiled, she ships them over. It's all about helping people, whether they are in your community or somewhere else because there are needs all over the world. I have even, at times when I have things leftover, I give them to my hairdresser, she sends stuff over to Africa. She mostly sends clothes, so I’ve donated clothes and also dry food items.
CAH:What should Philadelphians know about hunger and food insecurity?
Marshall: They should know, especially since the pandemic people aren’t working like they were, jobs have been lost. Especially in the hospitality industry, the restaurants. It’s people out here that need and won't let you know that they’re struggling. I found that out from the Penn counselor that I talked to he said ”some of these people are very proud they don’t want you to talk too much about their situation or anything”, which I don’t. I just deliver and give the person a smile and quick conversation and let them know that if you need help call me. A few people will call and some don’t and the ones who don’t, the ones that I kind of feel like they do need help, but don’t want to say, I call them and say “will you be home today? I’m going to come and drop off a box of food to you”.
CAH: You did this without them asking or giving you any indication?
Marshall: Yeah because I feel that they really need. Then there’s people who are out here who ask, and they don't really need. One lady gets food from like a thousand different organizations, more than once I’ve gone to her house and there’s someone else there delivering food. One time she said “don't bring me any more food. I have so much food I have to throw some of it away”. I just went [gasp]. So I suggested [to her], if you have that much food, why don’t you share it with somebody else? Why get food to be greedy and then waste it. I hate waste.
CAH: You also mentioned in a recent VIP meeting that you deliver food boxes, could you tell me more about that?
Marshall: I met a counselor from Penn at a RedCross picnic, I told him that I had a food bank and that if you have any family or know of any individuals that need help, call me and I can help them out. That’s how that started. One of the people he referred me to now, he actually helps me deliver food, he helps me when I do food rescue for Edison 64, [30 unit apartment building for US veterans]. Another lady Ms. Tracy also volunteered to help me out. So along the way I’ve picked up a couple volunteers they may not be able to help me all the time, but 85% of the time they are ready and willing to help.
CAH: How can we all fight hunger beyond the holidays?
Marshall:Thats a hard question. With me I’m just gonna continue to do what I do. Holidays are important to me, they are always really festive in my family. I used to see my Grandmom, she would cook all this food and every family member that lived in the city would stop by the house and eat. I would wonder “how does she have all this money to prepare all this food?” It would be two turkeys, a ham, fried chicken, greens, cabbage. I was fortunate enough that I have never been hungry, never and I feel as though if nothing else people should be able to eat.