Planting productivity

Intern Jessica Chou is helping RSVP Philadelphia better serve the community through its Home Delivered Meals Program

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

The dream team: Jessica Chou (second from left), a summer intern from Penn State University, is working with RSVP Philadelphia. Pictured with Chou are fellow interns (from left) Katie Miller, Lea Yakov and Tzippora Merkin and volunteer Ellen Schultz. Source: Stu Coren

In a world where fancy degrees and five-plus years experience are required for most jobs in the market, it’s refreshing to come across a role without any criteria. It’s a position that’s in high demand across all communities, something people can do on their own time outside of that regimented 9–5 bubble — helping others.

Someone who understands this sentiment well is 20-year-old Jessica Chou, a junior environmental resources management major at Penn State University’s main campus. Instead of spending her prized summer months taking vacations and relaxing, Chou is putting her time to productive use by interning with RSVP Philadelphia.

As part of KleinLife in the Northeast section of the city, RSVP Philadelphia provides 70,000 meals annually to homebound seniors in Bucks, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties who are unable to shop or cook for themselves through its Home Delivered Meals Program. RSVP also includes Cook For A Friend, a program that relies on volunteers and organizations to prepare meals that are then packaged, frozen and delivered by a group of drivers.

Chou, a Mechanicsburg native, is working under the tutelage of John Eskate, director of RSVP Philadelphia, who is helping the student make the most of her time with the organization.

“Jessica has been a wonderful addition to our summer staff,” Eskate praised. “We were most pleased with all the fine work she did to help us out during this growing season.”

So far, Chou has received invaluable experience she’ll be able to apply to the Penn State student farm, which she is an active leader of, as well as a professional career in the environmental management resources field. A large portion of her internship has involved overseeing the other summer interns and adult volunteers who sell fresh produce and other ingredients at the KleinLife Farmers Market on Tuesdays.

Much time has also been spent in KleinLife’s two Hoop Houses planting, growing and harvesting fresh vegetables and other raw ingredients. These foods, along with proceeds from the Farmers Market, are used to run the Home Delivered Meals Program.

Additionally, Chou has been assisting in the development of a new rain garden, where RSVP staff and volunteers can now plant native shrubs to absorb excess rainwater runoff from the KleinLife building.

“It’s been a wonderful learning experience to be able to learn more about urban farming in the summer season, while interacting with the other interns and working with the RSVP staff and its many volunteers,” Chou said. “I’ve also enjoyed interacting and talking with the senior members at KleinLife. They have been so kind and helpful.”

Chou is part of the 2018 Community Engagement Internship Program, which is part of the Penn State Center in Philadelphia. Now in its fifth year, this unique 10-week summer internship program connects students and recent graduates of the Penn State College of Agriculture Sciences, the Schreyer Honors College and the College of Liberal Arts with community-based urban agriculture organizations in Philadelphia.

The internships also aim to provide an immersive and transformative field-based community experience for students that complements their personal and professional interests. Students spend three days a week with their partner organization and two days working at the Penn State Center, where they support center initiatives and participate in activities.

As Chou’s unforgettable internship experience with RSVP comes to a close, she can look back with pride. Her key objective was to experience firsthand the summer growing season in an urban setting, and it’s safe to say she went above and beyond achieving that goal.

KleinLife is at 10100 Jamison Ave. in the Northeast section of Philadelphia. For information on RSVP Philadelphia, visit, or contact John Eskate at or 267–345–7787.

In addition to its Home Delivered Meals Program, RSVP’s volunteer efforts include working with Art Goes to School, a nonprofit that brings art appreciation classes to children across the Delaware Valley including those in the Council Rock, Centennial and Pennsbury districts; visiting nursing homes, rehab centers and hospitals; and advocating on behalf of crime victims. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at