Food for Thought – Philadelphia has been evolving since 2005.
In that year, Trish Johnston’s sister, Kathleen, worked as a teacher at a charter school in Philadelphia that serves at-risk kids. “At-risk” is a nice clean way of saying “poor,” “troubled,” “neglected,” or “abused.” Teaching there wasn’t easy. Kathleen often dealt with students who had heavy-duty emotional baggage, behavioral issues, health problems, or who were just plain hungry.
During the 2005 holiday season, Kathleen asked if Trish could pick up some extra items while grocery shopping over the next few weeks. She explained that many of her students didn’t have anything to eat when the school cafeteria closed over the holiday break. In fact, a few kids sported the swollen bellies that we all tend to associate with famine victims in the third world.
Trish did as asked, but her sister’s story kept her up at night. Trish told a friend, Kathy, about it. Kathy said, “That’s unacceptable. I’m going to buy some things, too.” Kathy did more than that; she posted a notice at the yoga studio where she took classes.
The next thing Kathy knew, food started arriving on her front porch. Lots of food. Kathy called and said, “Trish, you aren’t going to believe this. I have a trunk full of food to bring to you.” She drove it over and they stood in the driveway practically in tears at the generosity of strangers.
In 2006, Trish sent an email to everyone in her contact list explaining the situation. The email went viral. Strangers showed up at Trish’s house with carloads of food, hand-me-down clothes, coats, and personal care products. It was overwhelming. Time and time again, people would say, “I didn’t know this was happening to kids right down the road from here. How can this be? What else can I do?”
In 2007, past donors were primed and ready. Many ran their own mini-food drives at work or with family members. That year, there was enough food to send 300 kids home with groceries for the holidays. Many students were also outfitted with much-needed uniforms and other clothing.
Over the next three years, Trish continued to organize increasingly successful food drives. Finally, it was becoming apparent that the food drive was outgrowing her and her house.
In 2010, Lisa Raedler and Trish were both going through divorces. Their personal traumas were fertilizer for what quickly grew into a friendship. After talking over the possibilities, Lisa and Trish decided to formalize the food drive effort into FFT-Philadelphia. Lisa coordinated necessary steps, including getting a bank account and obtaining federal non-profit status.