APM’s Bridget Palombo Receives First National Harkin AmeriCorps Award

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In a green cargo van, three people pull into a large warehouse in South Philadelphia with two hand carts and a long list in hand. This is a regular bi‐weekly visit for this group, and many of the vendors recognize

Bridget Palombo has a presence that naturally earns respect and loyalty. With an expert eye, Bridget moves around the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market selecting the best fruit and vegetables to fill the list she carries. This week the team is there to choose over 1600 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables to bring back to Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha’s (APM) Food Buying Club (FBC).

The APM Food Buying Club utilizes the Produce Market to distribute affordable, quality produce through its scalable bulk buying club model. Every two weeks, through the work of volunteers and paid Community Connectors, families are able to access fresh, quality food within their own neighborhood from one of our pop‐up Pick‐up/ Drop‐off Centers.

Thanks to all her hard work, Bridget Palombo, was recently selected as the first ever winner of Thomas Harkin Excellence in AmeriCorps Programming and Service Award in the category of most compelling member experience in building an ethic of civic responsibility from AmeriCorps State and National Corporation for National & Community Service.

The FBC began as an idea of the Community and Economic Development Department (CED) of APM.  This idea sat for many years, but like any non profit; timing, financial limitations and lack of available staff always kept it on the back burner.  This past year, an opportunity was presented that allowed the FBC to finally get its chance to shine.    The Philadelphia Local Initiatives Support Organization (LISC) approached APM with the opportunity to have an AmeriCorps service member be placed for the summer.

Bridget was interning at APM for a few months through Bryn Mawr College, and was about to leave when it was suggested she take on the AmeriCorps position.  As a first step, several objectives that were critical to the project’s success in the first three months of implementation were decided on. This proof of concept phase had Bridget implementing a small food buying club pilot program.  Little did anyone know how fast this project would take hold and blossom.  In the last 48 weeks, the APM pop‐up food distribution system has now served over 440 households, with savings to those households in excess of $81,000 and distributed over 32,000 lbs. of affordable, quality produce.

“For decades AmeriCorps members, like Bridget, have made an impact on some of the toughest challenges in their communities,” said Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “I applaud Bridget for her dedication to improve access to affordable, healthy foods for Philadelphia residents and families and thank her for her leadership in service with the Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha.”

According to the AmeriCorps website, the award is presented to an outstanding AmeriCorps member, or alumnus, to encourage the development and expansion of best practices in national service programming, improved project development, and increase the value of the AmeriCorps member experience to help tackle the country’s most pressing human and environmental needs through service.

With emphasis on engaging individuals with disabilities in service, best program innovation and enhancements, and compelling AmeriCorps member experience, the awards reflect the depth of impact of the national service field on the communities served and the individuals serving.

“I am very proud. This award is thanks to some great mentors at APM,” Palombo stated. “They introduced the project idea to me, and really let me take the reins. I was surprised to be nominated by two separate individuals in the community that I respect and cherish. I recently was shown their nomination letters and both were very passionate and moving.”

The APM FBC was designed as a model that could be duplicated in other neighborhoods.  When asked about the future of the Food Buying Club, Palombo was quick to bring up two projects that are designed to raise funds to continue the FBC.    

“APM has created a Kickstarter campaign to help fund our next stage, which is to create a toolkit for other organizations interested in starting their own food buying club,” stated Bridget. “We are also working with our current FBC members to create a cookbook of local recipes that were made possible due to the great fresh foods available thanks to the FBC. We also hope that some local chefs will consider adding some recipes as well.”

“Bridget is a strong leader with exceptional skills and intelligence; her drive made her stand out from the first day she walked through our doors,” said Nilda Ruiz, President & CEO of APM. She is a strong advocate for a sustainable community, and has shown that AmeriCorps members can use their knowledge, skills and initiative to improve the landscape of our community.”

In addition to the AmeriCorps recognition, the APM Food Buying Club has been recognized by other awards including a Philly Stake award and Social Innovations Lab scholarship.

“AmeriCorps has provided me with the tools I need to be successful, and APM has helped me in more ways than I can count,” Bridget said. “They have guided me, challenged me, and provided opportunities to me that most people could only get in a lifetime of work.”

For more information, please contact us at info@apmphila.org or visit the APM website at www.apmphila.org.  And be sure and Like Us at the APM Food Buying Club on Facebook.

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APM is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia area. APM’s vision is “A community where all families are self reliant; where children are protected and nurtured to become future leaders, and where residents are engaged in their community.”

APM’s mission and vision are as multifaceted and diverse as the people we serve. Through a comprehensive array of life-improving social services, APM quickly assesses and institutes meaningful remedies for societal problems prevalent in today’s world. We create job opportunities, aid people with debilitating illnesses, revitalize neighborhoods and support families and individuals with our caring and compassion.

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