Alicia Tiernan (left) and Margaux Murphy team up to hand out bagged lunches at Prevention Point Philadelphia.

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The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. An old saying, but it still rings true.

In Philly’s Kensington section this summer, the convergence of three nonprofits has amounted to 500 free lunches that otherwise would have never existed.

Every Friday at 4 p.m., these lunches are handed out to people accessing services at Prevention Point Philadelphia, an addiction nonprofit with a focus on harm reduction. The idea was thought up by Margaux Murphy, founder of a local hunger nonprofit called The Sunday LOVE Project.

Murphy had some extra food, ready to be eaten — but she didn’t have the manpower to put it all together, nor the time to hand it out by herself. So she called up Alicia Tiernan, the client services manager at Kensington’s First Stop Recovery.

“I started thinking about it,” Murphy said, “and I realized it could come full circle. We could get people who are just coming off the streets to make lunches for people who are still out there.”

Alicia Tiernan packs lunches made by the residents at First Stop Recovery. Credit: Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

Every Thursday afternoon, Murphy delivers the materials — bread, peanut butter, jelly, granola bars and fruit cups — to the residents at First Stop. The residents, many of whom entered recovery fewer than 30 days ago, assemble the lunches and pack them up in purple paper bags.

Then on Friday, Murphy and Tiernan hand out the lunches at Prevention Point, to people with addiction who often experience hunger.

The collaboration has a handful of benefits.

  • It finds a use for extra food that might have gone to waste
  • It puts to work people in recent recovery, for whom a sense of purpose can help maintain their sobriety
  • It provides them a chance to give back to their neighborhood
  • It feeds people experiencing hunger
  • It fills an existing Friday afternoon gap in free meal services
  • It introduces people experiencing homelessness to the recovery housing at First Stop

“I was really happy this was a possibility, to have food provided by one nonprofit, labor and assembly provided by another nonprofit, and the space provided by another,” Tiernan said. “I’ve worked with nonprofits for years, and collaborations like this are few and far between.”

Indeed, nonprofit collaborations are often hard to foster — and harder still to maintain.

“Nonprofits are usually oriented toward the status quo in terms of funding streams, staffing models, programmatic strategies and organizational culture,” a report in the Stanford Social Innovation Review explains. “While they may dream of the benefits of collaboration, nonprofits also know it means risking their relative stability and safety.”

But when the collaborations actually work out, they work really well. They provide a space for nonprofits to pool their resources and offer new services, and require less work from each individual partner.

“When you do something like this, it’s above and beyond,” Tiernan said.

Prevention Point’s Clayton Ruley preps the free bottled water, which he hands out every Friday afternoon.

In this case, the additional free lunches are a big deal — especially on a Friday afternoon.

Clayton Ruley, Prevention Point’s director of drop-in services, said that’s when most nonprofits have already begun their break for the weekend.The collaboration helps bridge the gap.

“Two projects working in different facets can team together to basically solve a problem, which is in this case a Friday afternoon lunch bag and water,” Ruley said.

Ideally, Ruley said, this collaboration could also introduce some of his clients at Prevention Point — most of whom are still experiencing homelessness — to the recovery housing option offered at First Stop.

“It brings awareness to the organizations we’re working with,” Ruley said. “First Stop Recovery can reach out to folks who don’t have housing and get them the help that they need.”

Yes, collaborations among nonprofits are hard to maintain. But with this one, Murphy thinks the three have found a sweet spot — all parties say it will continue for the foreseeable future.

“I’m excited to have a perfect circle of helping,” Murphy said. “This is what I want to do every single day.”

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...