A Mission to Feed the City
Leesha Helm presents her research May 18 at Faith Chapel. | Ben Cleeton

A Mission to Feed the City

Faith Chapel’s program seeks more local partners

Feed the City, an outreach program of Faith Chapel, aims to provide provisions and sometimes prayer to those in need. The church’s outreach ministry, now in need of community support to sustain its monthly distribution of nonperishable food, diapers and other basic necessities, held a community engagement event May 18 to grow partnerships.

“This is an accumulation of my major passions: public health, medicine and faith,” said Leesha Helm about making Feed the City the focus of her capstone in Upstate’s Master of Public Health graduate program.

Pastor Jim Tuttle, with his wife Pastor Kelly Tuttle, shares how and why he began the Feed the City program. | Ben Cleeton

Leesha, who graduated Sunday, May 22, with a MD/MPH, presented her findings from “Feed the City: Exploring and Addressing Food Insecurity in Syracuse,” Wednesday evening in an effort to help raise awareness of food insecurity in Syracuse.

She interviewed volunteers of the program to better understand their views on food insecurity in Syracuse and how they felt the program helped. Feed the City delivers food to homes of individuals living in low-access areas in the city, and also provides a great deal of social and spiritual support.

Faith Chapel pastors Jim and Kelly Tuttle started Feed the City in 2008. Jim’s mission for the program was to care for the poor, which he says has become even more prevalent now that Syracuse has been named number one in the nation for concentrated poverty, according to “The Architecture of Segregation” a 2015 report by Paul Jargowsky.

“It was a huge burden in my heart,” Jim shared about seeing the community in need.

He found a similar mission out of Utica. Jim purchased food and supplied from Compassion Coalition at a discounted rate with the purpose to give back to his community. Both Jim and Kelly stated there are no requirements to their giving, meaning no one must attend or join their church. Their work is done out of compassion and a desire to help offset the problem of poverty in the city.

“We are not trying to increase our numbers,” Kelly said. “We love without judgment, and we give with no strings attached.”

Their program, they explained, fills in the gaps where government assistance falls short. Support provided by SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or food pantries often does not meet the needs of a family for the entire month, Leesha added, so the Feed the City program provides a bag of groceries to ease that burden.

Volunteers Leesha interviewed for her research identified several burdens families encounter – many she said are emotional ones, including feeling disrespected, dehumanized and complacent with their identity as food insecure.

“There can be a stigma with seeking food from the food bank or a food pantry,” explained Kevin Lee, a volunteer with Feed the City for nearly four years. “This program meets people where they are, coming directly to their door. We make it a comfortable exchange.”

Leesha Helm speaks to guests following the presentation. | Ben Cleeton

Compassion Coalition has said it no longer has enough food to supply to Faith Chapel. So the ministry’s twice monthly deliveries have scaled back to once a month. Offerings are even less frequent in the winter. Thus, Feed the City is in desperate need of stronger, more stable community partnerships, more food sources and financial assistance.

Mary Schnur, public relations officer for the program, says that the outreach has distributed 92,780 pounds of food to needy homes throughout the city’s South and West sides in the past four years.

“One of the main purposes of this event is to see who we can partner with; who can connect us at a corporate level to a funder,” Schnur said. “We already have a team in place on the ground. We can be the feet to their vision.”

Leesha hopes the recent presentation will help gain partners with food banks, food retailers, restaurants and even local farmers.

With help from her husband Matt Helm, another soon-to-be-graduate of Upstate Medical University, Leesha also organized a food drive at both the downtown and community campuses for the month of May. The Helms hope that their parting gift to Syracuse can be to raise awareness. The pair met three years ago, bonded over summer anatomy and married in April, two weeks after Match Day. The two will begin their residencies this summer at Penn State University’s Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pa. Leesha is going into family medicine, and Matt will specialize in dermatology.

 

 

— Article by Ashley Kang, The Stand director