Growing up as one of 10 children, Kathleen Thompson knew what it was like to be poor.
“We only had dessert once a week,” she said. “Two chocolate chip cookies on a Thursday night, and that was it.”
Several years ago, Thompson — a longtime teacher at St. Christopher School in Northeast Philadelphia — decided to help others who were struggling. She began organizing annual food drives, asking students and her fellow teachers to donate canned goods for the homeless.
To distribute the supplies, Thompson contacted Nutritional Development Services (NDS). An agency within archdiocesan Catholic Human Services, NDS manages a community food program in addition to administering federally funded child nutrition programs.
Fifteen years later, NDS and Thompson — who will turn 80 next April — are now working to help senior citizens, many of whom experience high levels of food insecurity.
“It’s been an issue that we’re seeing more and more throughout the community,” said Brooke Mullen, assistant director of community relations for NDS. “Seniors are having to choose between their normal obligations and the food that they put on their table.”
According to a May 2018 report by Feeding America, nearly 5 million seniors, or 7.7 percent of the nation’s senior population, were food insecure in 2016. An additional 3.7 million seniors were marginally food insecure. Wither fewer calories and nutrients, such seniors were at greater risk for depression, asthma and high blood pressure.
To help address this challenge, the NDS staff teamed up with another archdiocesan agency, Catholic Housing and Community Services (CHCS), which provides a broad range of support to area seniors. NDS and CHCS asked Thompson if she’d be willing to devote this year’s food drive to 100 older adults, providing them with the ingredients for a full Christmas dinner.
Thompson agreed, and to encourage her students to be generous, she asked them to double their donations.
“I told my second graders to bring one box of stuffing for the poor, and the other for me,” she said. “One little girl told her mom that I didn’t have any food or money, so she ended up giving me a huge basket of groceries.”
Denise Hopkins, administrator of NDS’s community food programs, was unsurprised by such generosity.
“St. Christopher’s is one of the schools we get the most food from every year,” she said.
On Dec. 11, staff and volunteers from NDS and CHCS gathered to assemble the Christmas packages, each of which contained mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing and applesauce. NDS added in a small turkey or ham for each recipient, and Aid for Friends – a nonprofit that provides meals for the homebound – provided storage and workspace at its Northeast Philadelphia warehouse.
The meal boxes, decorated with bows and holiday stickers, will also feed the seniors’ need for companionship. Each package contains enough to feed approximately four adults, allowing the seniors to invite family and friends for dinner.
“That’s something that some of them have not had the opportunity to do recently,” said Huot. “And it’s something that we take for granted.”
The main ingredient in each package is hope, said Liz Hagedorn, executive director of NDS.
“As we’re waiting for the Christ Child to be born, we want that light and that spirit to come into the lives of the seniors we’re serving,” she said.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
PREVIOUS: Clergy changes announced in archdiocese
NEXT: Archdiocese posts latest financial information
Share this story