Children's HealthWatch and Grow Clinic
The Center for Hunger-Free Communities (the Center) was originally founded in 2004 with the Philadelphia Grow Project (started in 2003) by Mariana Chilton, PhD, at Drexel University’s School of Public Health and Children's Healthwatch (founded in 1998 by Deborah Frank, PhD). Since its inception, the Center has focused on addressing child hunger through research, advocacy and community-engaged work. The Grow Clinic, as the Philadelphia Grow Project was renamed in 2005, provides comprehensive care to children struggling with proper weight gain ("failure to thrive") and sees hundreds of Philadelphia children every year at St. Christopher's Hospital. The program remained a Center project until 2013. Through its research with Children’s HealthWatch, the Center became nationally recognized for its expertise in child food insecurity. The Center administered Philadelphia's site of Children's Healthwatch through 2019, when the project was transitioned to another department in the Drexel Dornsife School of Public Health.
Witnesses to Hunger
In 2008, the Center created the participatory research project, Witnesses to Hunger, to ensure that low-income mothers and caregivers of children are included in the national dialogue on hunger and poverty. The project quickly drew attention from major media outlets and Congressional leaders. Senator Bob Casey, Jr. from Pennsylvania invited Witnesses to Hunger to display their photo exhibit in Washington, D.C. and hosted their traveling exhibit across Pennsylvania in 2010. Since then Witnesses to Hunger sites have begun in Baltimore, Boston, Camden, Connecticut and Washington, DC. Exhibits have been held in state houses, city halls and community centers. Members of Witnesses have testified before Congress and their local leaders about hunger, housing, education and poverty. Visit this page for more information on the history of Witnesses to hunger
In May 2012, the Center and the Dornsife School of Public Health hosted a National Conference on Poverty and Hunger. The conference brought together 350 attendees including media, academics, advocates, researchers, international leaders, and government officials with individuals who have experienced hunger and poverty first-hand.
Building Wealth and Health Network
Seeing the power in group saving and financing in India, Center Director Chilton brought the idea to the Center and developed the Building Wealth and Health Network. The Network pairs financial education with peer support to create a financial empowerment program. The Center matches the savings of the members and provides them with the tools and supports to save and build a future.
Involvement in research and advocacy showed the Center the deep isolation that comes hand-in-hand with hunger and poverty. This recurring theme led the Center to create the EAT Café. It was Philadelphia's first pay-what-you-can restaurant. Individuals and family were invited to enjoy a delicious three-course meal no matter their ability to pay for it. Through strong partnerships with the Vetri Community Partnerships and Drexel's Center for Food and Hospitality Management and community support, the Eat Café opened in October of 2016. It closed in April 2019.
After the closure of the Eat Café, the Center partnered with No Kid Hungry to host a Summer Meals Pilot program in the cafe's space at 3820 Lancaster Avenue during the summer of 2019. The program ran from June to August and tested the concept of utilizing restaurant spaces as sites for the federally-funded summer meal program.
The Center for Hunger-Free Communities continues to find innovative ways to address hunger and poverty. Its work informs policies on local, state and national levels through peer-reviewed publications, research and policy briefs and community-engaged programs.