Star of Hope Baptist Church has been serving worshippers of Tacony and beyond for the last 100 years. Pastor Hubert Barnes has shepherded the flock for the last 31 years. Seven years ago, the church created a food cupboard to nourish the hungry in its midst.
But until a few months ago, Star of Hope never had an efficient way to help needy folks with a multitude of other social services.
“I’ve encountered people who’ve had housing needs or insecurities and I’d have to do homework, do research” to get them help, Barnes said. “I’d have to reach out to the councilman’s office and call around.”
It was very much a hit-or-miss proposition until last fall, when Star of Hope joined about 30 other faith groups, nonprofits and institutions in the community to form the Northeast Services Team, also known as NESTco. On Jan. 28, leaders of those partner groups gathered at Kingdom Life Christian Center in the Devon Theater to map out their objectives and to raise some money in support of them.
“We wouldn’t turn anybody away, but we’ve identified our target area as the four police districts (in the Northeast): the 2nd, 7th, 8th and 15th,” said Bob Byrne, the NESTco board chairman and Northeast director for the Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network.
NESTco aims to help people who are lacking in a multitude of necessities. Shelter, food, child welfare and mental health support are four typical areas of need.
The list of NESTco partners reads like a who’s who of Northeast religious congregations, social service providers and medical and educational institutions. Catholic Community Services, CORA Services, Friends Hospital, Gateway Health, Maternity Care Coalition, Holy Family University’s Family Center and Greater Philadelphia Diaper Bank are among the coalition. The Mayor’s Office of Empowerment and Opportunity represents the public sector. Emma Wagner, the community services coordinator for Councilman Bobby Henon’s staff, is the NESTco executive director.
The concept grew out of a conversation early last year between Henon and Rachel Falkove, the executive director of the Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network, which arranges temporary lodging in churches for working families who have become homeless. Falkove observed that people in distress often have multiple areas of need that cannot be satisfied by a single organization.
“The thought was, in Northeast Philadelphia there are a lot of really good service providers, but the work is kind of siloed. But if we came together, we could help a lot more residents,” Byrne said.
“Our first meeting was in June and maybe 12 organizations were there. And we’ve grown to 30,” Wagner said.
NESTco gained nonprofit status in October.
“People in the community will come to one of our groups or a church or agency,” Byrne said. “If one agency can’t help them in a particular way, they will refer the person to another agency.”
For example, John Gaynor’s Catholic Community Services works largely with abused and neglected children. Pat Kennedy’s Greater Philadelphia Diaper Bank collects and redistributes more than a half-million baby diapers and adult incontinence garments each year. Connecting the two groups’ work seems a natural.
Likewise, Kingdom Life also has a food bank and engages in youth outreach programs. Pastor Danette Ray and church leaders recently visited Ethan Allen Elementary School in Lower Mayfair, where they learned that a lot of young people needed winter coats, hats and scarves. So the church mounted a coat drive. Ray envisions NESTco as a way for the church to identify and fill more social service gaps locally.
“We want to tell the community about the types of services we can provide,” she said.
Ray thinks there’s a shortage of social services in the Northeast compared to other parts of the city.
“There’s a perception that there’s not a need in this area, but that’s a misconception,” Barnes agreed.
According to Wagner, poverty rates in the Northeast range from 14 percent to 23 percent, depending on the ZIP code. Gaynor noted that more readily available services might help reduce poverty. Providing affordable child daycare service to a parent might enable the parent to take a job. Giving a winter coat to a child might mean the difference between that child going to school or staying home.
In the short term, NESTco is trying to raise seed money to help offset its start-up administrative costs and marketing expenses. This year, NESTco hopes to fund an office with staffing. Some of the partner organizations operate from borrowed or shared spaces because they don’t have their own offices. Even in its formative stages, NESTco has proven a more efficient way to deliver services.
“Tremendously so,” Barnes said. “And you get to know the representatives from these organizations, so you have a high degree of confidence that people’s problems will be solved.” ••
Call Emma Wagner at 215-683-9220 or email email@example.com for information about Northeast Services Team (NESTco).