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Broad Street Ministry Practices Radical Hospitality in Philadelphia

SNF supports Broad Street Ministry in providing vital food aid to vulnerable populations in Philadelphia, a mission the pandemic has made simultaneously more necessary and more difficult than ever.
Why do 3,000 people use a 120-year-old church building in Philadelphia as their permanent address?
When you walk into Broad Street Ministry (BSM), one of the first things you see is a mural with a huge “Welcome” lettered over a lush floral background. That simple message reveals the mechanism by which BSM’s mission operates: offer radical hospitality as an entry point for people to access to life-changing services.

As it does everywhere, at BSM hospitality means food, and a free lunch served daily to guests is the pole star around which a constellation of other services revolve. BSM’s concierges guide guests in navigating complex systems to secure essentials like identification, housing, and behavioral health care. An on-site healthcare provider addresses medical needs and connects patients requiring further care to a nearby health facility. And a mailroom offers the permanent address necessary to access many resources.

Becoming a portal to a range of vital services requires building trust. Taking a trauma-informed approach to delivering services, BSM has carefully thought through exactly how those services are delivered, from the perspective of guests. Systems for distributing personal care items and clothing ensure that no one is waiting in line wondering whether supplies will run out. Guests walking into BSM midday are welcomed to a sit-down lunch served by volunteers.

Except no one is walking into BSM for lunch right now. The pandemic has simultaneously made the organization’s services both more necessary than ever and more difficult than ever to deliver. BSM has mounted an all-hands-on-deck response, flexibly adapting its radical hospitality approach to radically altered conditions and partnering with other Philadelphia organizations in the Step Up to the Plate campaign

The long-term future of the pandemic is unclear, but what is clear now is the immediate, significant increase in need. BSM is seeing scores of new faces, some traveling from other parts of the city as the health crisis has forced other providers to close, some facing newfound food insecurity, some released from incarceration into locked-down world.

Every member of the organization, including its leadership, is pitching in to serve meals and offer personal care items at two new outdoor sites in different parts of the city, with support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF). Meals are now prepackaged by local caterers, and volunteer shifts are on hold. BSM has also partnered with Philadelphia Mural Arts to set up handwashing stations across the city.

“BSM’s guests are among the most vulnerable populations during this pandemic,” said Executive Director Mike Dahl. It is hard to shelter at home when you have no home to which to go. The generosity and timeliness of SNF’s support will mean we can continue to provide life-saving services during this unprecedented time.”
Coverage of Broad Street Ministry’s evolving response to the crisis
  • April 15, 2019: a feature on BSM’s mail services before the pandemic
  • March 20, 2020: a gallery of photos capturing BSM’s adaptations to stay open
  • March 25, 2020: a feature on BSM’s partnership with Philadelphia Mural Arts to install handwashing stations around the city
  • April 16, 2020: an article on the Step Up to the Plate Campaign