Philabundance Seeks the Expertise of SJU Students

Monday, February 11, 2008

Despite having the distinction of being the second largest food bank in the United States, Philabundance, Philadelphia's food rescue organization, is facing challenges meeting the needs of the city's hungry. The organization serves 100,000 people a week, through 600 cupboards and shelters, and is struggling to keep up with demand in the community.

"We're fundamentally at the limits of the traditional network of cupboards and shelters to reach out and feed people," said William J. Clark, president and executive director of Philabundance. "We are faced with a mounting need in the community and the inability of the traditional methods to find ways to meet that need."

This spring, Saint Joseph's food marketing students in Marty Meloche, Ph.D.'s service learning course are developing a business plan for the organization in the hopes of finding a better way to serve the area's hungry. Meloche and Clark will be team-teaching the course, "Developing a Non-Profit Retail Site," in which students will look to resolve the problems inherent in Philadelphia's current food distribution system.

Meloche, an associate professor of food marketing, has worked with Clark over the past year to brainstorm solutions to Philabundance's mounting needs. Together, they developed a business model that the students will expand upon and implement through their coursework. "A grocery store in a box," is what Meloche and Clark are calling their model, which will have the feel of a mobile retail site and will be placed strategically throughout Philadelphia.

Food marketing students will be responsible for establishing sites where the hungry can redeem credits and food stamps, and have a declining balance to buy not only food, but also other essentials, like toilet paper, during hours that are convenient for them.

The class itself, in working to flesh out the business model, will be divided into five groups, with each group tackling a specific function of the store, including accounting, design, management, merchandising and product selection. A central board, which Meloche and Clark will head, will act as a sixth group to help each group synthesize their research and findings.

In addition, students will complete their service requirement by volunteering at one of Philabundance's warehouses, and by interacting with the hungry in Philadelphia to solicit their input as to what they want out of a food site.

"One of the biggest parts about service for me, and for the students, is recognizing that the people they are serving are human beings," said Meloche. "Students will actually make contact with and interview the people that will be benefiting from the service."

Both Clark and Meloche stress the applicability of the course to real-world situations.

"This is not just an academic exercise," said Clark. "This class will put students to the test in a true working environment. We're asking students to design a realistic, practical solution to a real-life problem."

Once the class and business plan are complete, Meloche and Clark will take the plan to investors for funding, in hopes of having a finished prototype by fall 2008. But right now, Meloche said, the focus is on the students.

"Teaching students to work in a non-profit setting is an extension of the University's mission," said Meloche. "The idea of the mission, being a person for others, understanding those in need, having a social platform, being a person of justice—all of these reflect the Ignatian attitude of Saint Joseph's, and I think the students will benefit greatly from their efforts."

--Dan Wisniewski '08

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