Life Science Cares Philly Takes Aim at Poverty in Philadelphia

The Philadelphia life sciences ecosystem has contributed to the improvement of countless lives through the development of innovative therapies. Over the past year, the more than 50,000 employees in this sector have been able to give back even more to their community through Life Sciences Cares Philadelphia.

Life Science Cares Philly (LSC Philly), an offshoot of the original Life Sciences Cares program in Boston, launched in December 2019 and hit the ground running with an aim to take on poverty in Philadelphia, the poorest large city in the United States with a 25% poverty rate. In 2017, more than 375,000 Philadelphia residents lived below the poverty line, and one in five suffered from food insecurity. LSC Philly partners the employees of the life sciences industry in the City of Brotherly Love with non-profit organizations

LSC Philly Executive Director Peter Wolf called the effort a “one-two punch” of both financial support and volunteer work.  Life sciences employees are driven by a desire to improve the lives of people through scientific innovation. The volunteer program is a measure for these same folks to become actively engaged in the community and improve the lives of others. LSC Philly is taking a three-pronged approach to poverty through three specific areas, human survival, education, and economic sustainability.

“We want to activate (life sciences) employees and give them a range of volunteer options to address this issue. Philadelphia has a sustained poverty issue that is endemic and very challenging to address,” Wolf said.

Many researchers in the pharma industry can spend a career unsuccessfully trying to develop a new medication that passes through the regulatory process. It can be frustrating and the volunteer opportunities provided through LSC Philly is a way for them to make an immediate impact, Wolf said.

“We want to provide an outlet for people who care. It’s a slow progress often in developing medicines and this is a way for them to have an outlet,” he said.

When it launched, LSC Philly partnered with five local organizations: Broad Street Ministry, an organization that serves meals to the city’s homeless population; Cradles to Crayons, a nonprofit group that ensures children have access to clothing, school supplies and other needs; Philabundance, which focuses on food insecurity, a significant need in Philadelphia, where 20% of the city deals with food insecurity on a regular basis; First Hand, an organization that exposes middle school-aged kids to opportunities in the industry; and Year Up, a nonprofit that guides young adults into training opportunities for sustainable careers.

In addition to the hands-on efforts from the volunteers, Wolf said LSC Philly is encouraging C-Suite executives to become involved with the boards of directors of the nonprofits “to take the message of volunteerism back to their companies.”

The first two months of 2020 were exciting, as volunteers eagerly did their part assisting people through these opportunities and LSC Philly made a $50,000 grant to the five groups. But, in March, COVID-19 swept across the nation and hindered many of the hands-on volunteer activities LSC Philly was involved with.

“This was not the year I anticipated,” Wolf quipped, as he looked back over the past 12 months.

Because hands-on efforts were now limited, LSC Philly leaned more heavily into fundraising than initially anticipated. But, in 2020, financial support was what these organizations needed, Wolf said. Over the course of 2020, LSC Philly raised about $300,000 to share with its five partners.

Wolf noted that with some of the organizations, such as Year Up, volunteers were still able to virtually meet and engage with their clients in areas such as mentoring, the sharing of career advice and help guide the participants in any jobs training needs.

“These were things that can be done virtually, which was a good thing,” Wolf said.

This month, LSC Philly announced an additional$220,000 in grants that will be made to 14 Greater Philadelphia-based social service organizations. That brings the organization’s giving total to $570,000 in the initial year of operations in Philadelphia. 

“This has been a successful year, considering the circumstances,” Wolf said.

While there is still some ways to go before the pandemic is in the proverbial rear-view mirror, LSC Philly is already looking at future opportunities in the coming year. LSC Philly recently expanded its cooperation with other Philadelphia nonprofits, including ACHIEVEability; Breakthrough Greater Philadelphia; eCLOSE; JEVS Human Services; MANNA; Nationalities Services Center; Philadelphia Education Fund; Philadelphia Futures; and Project Home. Wolf said the additional nonprofit partners expands the available opportunities for the industry to volunteer.

“We know that by working together and aligning the time and talents of the life science industry, we can and will make a real and measurable impact on our neighbors in need,” Life Science Cares Philadelphia Chairman Vin Milano said in a statement.

With the success in Boston and a strong first year in Philadelphia, Life Science Cares is launching in other biopharma hubs, including the recently-launched San Diego. Wolf said there are ongoing discussions in other areas that have yet to be finalized.

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Alex Keown

Alex Keown is a freelance journalist who writes about a variety of subjects including the pharma, biotech, and life science industries. Prior to freelancing, Alex has served as a staff writer and editor for several publications.