The new program, “Sandwich Saturdays,” aims to feed the homeless population.
After Girard Estates native Dina Della Ducata recently read that one in three Philadelphia children goes to sleep hungry, she refused to turn a blind eye.
“I say that so people can think about that and pause and really let that set in, because one in three kids goes to bed hungry in Philadelphia,” she said. “To me, that’s just mind-boggling. We have restaurants on every block … how can that be?”
As both a former Philadelphian and the director of governmental and community relations at the South Philly-based CATCH, or Citizens Acting Together Can Help, Inc., Della Ducata tapped into her immediate resources to establish the pilot program of “Sandwich Saturdays,” a new quarterly event striving to feed homeless populations throughout the city.
On Sept. 15, CATCH kicked off the inaugural event, delivering more than 600 brown paper bags stuffed with sandwiches, snacks and even heartfelt letters to residents of Women of Hope, Bethesda Project and St. John’s Hospice.
The “Saturdays” mission aligns with its parent program, CATCH, which was established in 1979 in South Philadelphia in response to a juncture when state hospitals were closing in the late 1960s, pushing and deserting patients in the streets.
“CATCH is a community-based mental health center,” Della Ducata said. “We provide mental health and drug and alcohol services, as well as intellectual disability services here in the community. … We’re very proud of our mission and what we’ve accomplished. We work really hard to take care of the most needy population here in South Philadelphia.”
Approaching its 40th year, CATCH, which started as one location, now has 11 establishments across South Philly.
Della Ducata explained that as the needs of the needy have shifted over the last four decades, CATCH keeps up with the transformations of the community and its demographics.
Most recently, a few years ago, CATCH opened its Patriot House — a homeless residency for veterans. The location is on 15th between Federal and Wharton and features a 15-apartment complex that was funded through a federal grant.
“Our programs are really tailored towards the needs of what’s going on in the community. … We constantly try to evolve as the needs of our clients and funding sources and as we learn more and more about recovery,” Della Ducata said.
While types of addictions and roads to recovery may have changed, food insecurity in Philadelphia has persisted.
According to a report by Hunger Free America, from 2014 to 2016, 301,781 Philadelphia residents, or 19.3 percent, lived in food-insecure households.
But, the community wants to see these figures curbed.
When Della Ducata started planning for Sandwich Saturdays, she unexpectedly received financial and food donations from local organizations and businesses, including Innovative Benefits, the Adelphia Lion’s Club, Premiere Catering, Pizzeria Pesto and Sysco.
The messages of hope tucked into each bag were crafted by children and consumers of CATCH’s Outpatient and Intellectual Disabilities Division, as well.
“It really transcended. It was the true meaning of what a community is,” Della Ducata said. “We all just came together, and it turned out to be a beautiful day. It was a tremendous amount of work but so much worth it. … When the homeless person received this little bag of something that we could give them, they would know that they were special, they were loved, they were thought of.”
She says the nearly 40 volunteers of all ages who came out that Saturday were truly touched by the experience, as the homeless individuals, who were also multigenerational, expressed gratitude to each one of them.
As far as future Saturdays, Della Ducata hopes to schedule the next event sometime around the holidays. The bags will also include warming items for the winter, like scarves, gloves and hats that will be distributed to a new round of shelters.
“Everyone really came together really to serve,” she said. “It was really just a wonderful testament for the community just to come together for a cause.”
For more information about CATCH, Inc., visit catchinc.com.