Broad Street Ministry, The Starbucks Foundation to bring handwashing stations to homeless

Philadelphia – One of the strongest public health recommendations for slowing the spread of the coronavirus is to wash your hands. But what happens if you don’t have access to soap and water?

That was the question suddenly facing Broad Street Ministry (BSM) in Philadelphia, which serves about 6,000 vulnerable people every year, guests who are homeless, living on the margins or just needing a place to start after being evicted or released from prison. BSM provides lunch every weekday, a mail stop and other social services.

The answer was simple. Since March 17, BSM has put up 12 temporary handwashing stations around the city, adorned with murals, in places where at-risk populations usually congregate. An estimated 2,000 people are now using them every day to wash their hands, helping slow the spread of the virus in Philadelphia, according to Nicole McDonald, BSM’s director of community relations.

Starbucks partners have long had an ongoing relationship with BSM; every store in the city has sent volunteers to work with the organization. Many were planning on doing so again in April for the company’s Global Month of Good campaign.

“Broad Street Ministry is a key community partner for Starbucks,” says Marcus Eckensberger, Starbucks regional director in Philadelphia. “Their radical hospitality approach provides us opportunities to support those who are experiencing scarcity in our community in a way that is aligned with Starbucks mission and values.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, The Starbucks Foundation provided funding to help support the handwashing stations.

As part of the project, BSM also partnered with Mural Arts Philadelphia to create simple, positive signs that share tips about handwashing and public health and offers messages of support. One mural measures what proper social distance looks like, showing two people at opposite ends of a couch, six feet apart.

The stations come with 40 gallons of water, offer soap and paper towels and are operated with a foot pump. They’re refilled once or twice per week.

“The population that goes to Broad Street Ministry is a largely invisible population,” says Nicole, who helped develop the idea. She hopes these stations make visible “a conversation about what does public health precautions look like for everybody? There is a privilege in being able to quarantine at home, and just being able to wash your hands.” 

BSM operates with a philosophy of “radical hospitality,” which means it accepts everyone regardless of background. It also guides how they usually serve lunch, for example, every Monday through Friday, with linens and plates, silverware and tableside service. BSM served 71,000 meals last year. During the pandemic, BSM is offering to-go meals.

“It’s hard to recognize the level of need that one neighbor has over the other; you truly don’t know,” Nicole says. “This crisis is showing us how interlocked we all are, and that if any of us are vulnerable, we’re all vulnerable. That’s part of the reason why these handwashing stations are so important. We truly are all in this together.”