A group of community, business, and political leaders sat across a dinner table Thursday night from residents who don't always have enough to eat.
People who have lived with hunger and homelessness shared their stories without a bid for sympathy.
"Hunger doesn't discriminate," said Angela "Nike" Sutton, 39, of Northeast Philadelphia. "It's all over, and it's in our own backyard."
Sutton shared the challenge of stretching income from her disability check to feed a family that includes two young sons at an event aimed at galvanizing the region to step up its antihunger efforts as Philadelphia prepares to host Pope Francis.
A Call to Action brought city leaders and activists together with people who face food insecurity to share a meal, conversation, and a pledge to work harder. The event was organized by the Hunger and Homelessness Committee of the World Meeting of Families.
About 180 people attended the event at the Nicetown headquarters of the SHARE Food Program, which provides food to area pantries and food cupboards. Guests dined on a meal of pasta marinara, tossed salad, and garlic knots prepared by culinary students at Mercy Vocational High School.
The evening also included an exhibit of photographs by Witnesses to Hunger, a program of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University, in which mothers and caregivers struggling with poverty share stories and pictures.
"Part of tonight is education and part of it is to make a commitment," said Sister Mary Scullion, cochair of the Hunger and Homelessness Committee. The dinner was part of the committee's mission to heighten awareness, raise funds to fight poverty, sponsor a devotional art project, and campaign to lobby Congress to address hunger, homelessness, and criminal justice reform.
Scullion invited guests to write out pledges to work against hunger. Several dozen stood before the audience and read them aloud.
The pope's visit and his commitment to issues affecting disadvantaged communities provide the perfect spotlight, said Laura Wall, executive director of the Coalition Against Hunger, which helped plan the event.
Steveanna Wynn, executive director of SHARE, described the meal and the table it was served on as a symbol. The table's four legs represent the groups at the dinner: corporations, clergy, community, and people struggling with hunger. The top of the table is where solutions are shared.
"Unless you've talked to someone who's experienced this, you don't really know what it's about," said Sharon Latchaw Hirsh, president of Rosemont College. "It's the difference between learning something from a textbook and learning by doing."