By Erin E. Arvedlund
The Philadelphia Inquirer.
When Sharline Heller heard a few years ago that Philadelphia’s First Congressional District was the second-hungriest in the country, she had to do something about it.
“I’ve never told anyone this,” she said, then paused, “but I’ve been there.”
Today, Heller, 81, lives at the Philadelphian, a high-rise apartment building on the Parkway. But many decades ago, she was divorced and caring for her young son and daughter.
Although she always worked, one day “the check just didn’t come. There were enough eggs and bread for just one meal. And then we were going to go hungry.”
Life improved with full-time work. She got a job at Temple in 1985, as assistant to president Peter Liacouras, then moved to State College to work at Pennsylvania State University, planning events. She moved back to Philadelphia to work for the American Heart Association.
In 2011, she found out about Farm to Families, a start-up anti-hunger program at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children that provides fresh produce, and leaped into action. Hans Kersten, who heads the “failure to thrive” practice at the hospital, was writing “prescriptions” for healthy food for his little patients.
“He wanted to start it, and he asked me to run it,” Heller said. So she did.
By then, Heller had retired. But she wanted to remain active in her favorite cause: fighting hunger. To run the program efficiently, she learned to speak Spanish fluently so she could communicate with some of the families who came in for their boxes of produce.
There is no income requirement for Farm to Families. Anyone can come in to a location and sign up for fresh vegetables and fruit.
Social workers also identify for the program families who suffer from “food insecurity.” Since the program’s inception, families have signed up for more than 10,000 Farm to Families produce boxes, she says.