IBX Associate and Blue Crew Volunteer, Annamarie Burke, serving up dinner at Project Home Women of Change, a shelter that provides safe haven housing for women in need.
Close your eyes for a second and try to remember the biting cold we experienced early this winter. Now, imagine coming in from the freezing temperatures and being greeted by a smiling face ready to serve you a hot bowl of soup and a golden grilled cheese sandwich. That is the comforting feeling we aim to give the residents of Project Home’s Women of Change each month when we prepare dinner for them as part of the Blue Crew, Independence Blue Cross’s (IBX) Corporate Volunteer Program.
A Mission to Break the Cycle of Homelessness and Poverty
Project Home’s Women of Change (WOC) provides safe haven housing for homeless women who have a history of mental illness. The staff works with up to 25 residents at a time to help them manage their medication and find employment so they can become self-sufficient and eligible for permanent housing. Project Home was founded by Sister Mary Scullion who belongs to the Religious Sisters of Mercy. One of my aunts is a Religious Sister of Mercy, so I have long been familiar with Project Home and Sister Scullion’s mission to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty in Philadelphia. However, it was not until I came to IBX that I became actively involved in WOC.
A Lesson in Giving Back
When I was growing up, my mom struggled with recurring depression, so I empathize with the women who live at WOC. Despite being a widow with two young children and her struggle with depression, my mom taught us to help others and give back to our community, because, as she said, “We did not know how good we had it.” So, within weeks of starting at IBX, I signed up with the Blue Crew and headed over to WOC. Although I did not know any of the other volunteers, within minutes I felt at home in this group that had a common purpose of bringing joy to these women through a home-cooked meal. Rogelio Riley, our fearless coordinator, and each volunteer brings a part of the meal.
More Similar than Different
When I started volunteering at WOC I started noticing the parallels between the residents and the volunteers. Both groups were diverse — in age, race, and personalities — and I quickly realized that the main thing that separated us was the wall to the kitchen. Under different circumstances, any of us could be in the opposing situation, and that realization was quite humbling.
I’ve volunteered at WOC for the past three and a half years, and I always go in wondering how many of the same women will be there. Who will have moved on from safe haven housing to permanent housing? How many new women will there be? I carelessly called out “See you next month!” A soft-spoken woman near me replied, “No offense, but I hope not. Next month I hope to be in my own place.” Now, I stop myself from being so insensitive.
The Comfort of a Familiar Face
While some women cannot wait to leave, there are others who seem very happy to see us each month. When we walk in, we are greeted by a chorus of “hellos” and “What are we having for dinner tonight?” I think the women are comforted to see the same faces month after month — to know that we have not given up on them. It gives them the slight glimmer of hope that someone is on their side.
The Gratitude of a Smile
On one occasion, when I was buying dessert from Sam’s Club, on a whim, I bought some delicious-looking fruit pastries. When we served them, one woman kept coming back for more and thanking me as she told me excitedly that they reminded her of the baked goods her Russian grandmother used to make. Her shining eyes and big smile were all the thanks I needed. Delivering comfort food? Mission accomplished!