By Chris Neville
When I was applying to colleges, I toured a few of those located in Philadelphia. At each one, my tour guide said something along the lines of, “Philadelphia is a big city, but it’s really a big college town.” Working at St. Peter’s, I have definitely found this to be true. Relationships with the various institutions of higher learning in this city have been highly beneficial to me during my time at St. Peter’s Food Cupboard.
As might be expected, these institutions have been an unfailing source of volunteers. I receive emails weekly from individual students or student groups who want to serve at St. Peter’s. During my tenure here, we have had volunteer groups from Thomas Jefferson University, the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Temple University, and Bryn Mawr College. In addition, the universities of Philadelphia have provided me with skilled volunteers who help me to improve the food cupboard. Every autumn, we partner with the Intercultural Communication master’s program at the University of Pennsylvania, which provides us with five to seven students who volunteer at the food cupboard every Saturday for an entire semester, helping us to discover and overcome cultural barriers between us and our clients. Many of these students are able to provide the indispensable service of interpreting between Mandarin and English. Another skilled volunteer is Claire, a medical student at Thomas Jefferson University who chose to do her community internship with us, studying food security in Philadelphia. Claire has brought skills that enable her to serve in food cupboard leadership positions and to review and edit our grant applications.
Encouraged by these partnerships that basically fell into my lap, I began actively seeking more relationships with Philadelphia universities. At the suggestion of one of my board members, I contacted a group of Temple MBA students, requesting that they analyze how the food cupboard functions and suggest changes that could help us to operate more smoothly. We recently had an initial meeting with these students, who are excited to put their coursework into practice to help us out. I am also contacting various student groups in search of volunteer Mandarin, Cantonese, and Vietnamese interpreters.
Aside from volunteers, relationships with Philadelphia universities have provided me with amazing networking opportunities. When I mentioned that I am considering looking for a job in biological research at the close of my Servant Year term, multiple volunteers offered to help me connect with researchers at their respective institutions. Additionally, my official Servant Year mentor is a very well-connected visiting professor at the Wharton School of Business. Every time we meet, he offers to connect me with someone interesting or potentially helpful.
When talking about networking, Lindsay, our program director, once told me, “Philadelphia is a big city, but you’ll find it’s really a small town. Everyone knows everyone.” This, too, I have found to be true. Philadelphia has skyscrapers, a subway system, and 1.5 million inhabitants, but it’s also a small college town full of well-resourced people who are eager to serve their community.
Chris Serves as Manager of the St. Peter's Food Cupboard