This Women’s Month, we have taken a look at the lives, works, and triumphs of remarkable women of color who not only are great representations of the Black community, but represent the QPOC community as well. These profiles are meant to go beyond storytelling.
Beyond re telling. To reach further and spark inspiration.
To start off our last week of Women’s Month, SOULE sat down with social worker and entrepreneur Tiara Council, whose organization D.I.T.O. is working tirelessly to fight food insecurity in the Philadelphia area.
Tiara Council, is a Philly native who earned a B.A. in Social Work from Mansfield University (PA) with a focus in Therapy in the Family and a minor is Sociology. Tiara also earned her M.A. in Social Work from Temple University with a focus on Policy and Community to learn about creating policies and how to engage communities with the purpose of social work. Tiara is currently in the process of completing her license in Social Work, but has been working in the field since 2007.
D.I.T.O., which is an acronym for Dream. Invent. Think. Organize., is a 501c3 non-profit organization that deals with urban agriculture, food security, and self empowerment. DITO was incorporated in 2013 and started operations in 2015- through hard work, dedication, and a passion for change, Tiara has fed over 700 individuals through her organization without funding.
D.I.T.O. has two main components: The Segue Gardens Division, which consists of a weekly grocery giveaway and “Urban Gardening” program. The second facet of the organization is the Progressive Thinkers Division which includes community education and empowerment sessions. During the weekly grocery giveaways, D.I.T.O. has a barber come in twice a month to give free hair cuts.
According to a recent study, 1 in 5 Philadelphians are food insecure. On starting D.I.T.O., Tiara says that she was stunned at how far she had to travel from her own neighborhood to find healthy food options. “I started D.I.T.O. out of anger, it wasn’t intended to be what it is today. I was really angry at the fact that I had to travel so far out of my neighborhood. I should be able to stay in the comforts of my own neighborhood to do these things to jog or get healthy food. The powers that be have the power to really ratify social injustices but I didn’t think they were intentional about doing it.” So D.I.T.O. was started in order to fill that need within the community.
The weekly grocery give a way is free and open to the public and allow participants to choose from high quality groceries from Trader Joe’s, and The Fresh Market, as well as produce from D.I.T.O’s community garden. In the years since it was started, Tiara has found the hard work and dedication has yielded an abundance of return.
“No matter what, I’m going to get a return. I’m already receiving returns. People have come up to me and said ‘I really can start a business, I really can make a difference, or ‘the food I got from the program was really used to feed somebody.’ If DITO stopped today I know that 700 lives have been touched; People Capital, Social Capital is important. That is legacy.”
The Urban Gardening Program was started in 2014 in an effort to clear a vacant lot in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia, which for many residents is considered to be a food desert with minimal access to nutritional foods. The program then grew to provide access to health education.
As a QPOC, being of service to your community can have a huge impact on the way you view the meaning of community. As a woman, as a Black woman, and as A Lesbian woman, there is a trifecta of influences that dictate how one shows up in the world to successfully serve.
“Being a part of the community in general and finding where that balance is between business and personal is difficult. I can’t hide being a Black woman so when I walk into a room and pitch this idea I have to be very proficient because being Black is looked at as a shortcoming to some. In the social work entity, religious groups play a big part in supporting certain organizations so you have to be very aware of what is appropriate. I know there are challenges with those who do not approve of my lifestyle. I have to ask myself do I show up and be 100 percent transparent and other times I ask do I really care. You have to learn discretion, what is the boundary that you are going to create for yourself for your personal and professional life. You can be pigeonholed into not being authentic because you are always being closeted.”
What is next for D.I.T.O.?
The organization has already fed 700 individuals with minimal funding and has no intention of slowing down. D.I.T.O has just kick started an urban agriculture program in Philadelphia public schools which teaches children about planting, and agriculture. Tiara is also in the process of building the infrastructure for the Segue Garden, and is in talks with the USDA to add a greenhouse. Tiara says, “The food giveaway continues to grow and we become more ingrained in the community. We are in need of a building and in order to offer more resources we need our own space.”
Currently, D.I.T.O. partners with Reach Philadelphia in order to house the food for the weekly grocery give a way, but the plan is to acquire a building that would allow the organization to offer more frequent empowerment sessions and offer more services in general.
What can people do to contribute to the cause?
“People can support in monetary donations so that we can purchase a building, come volunteer in one of our programs. Help to alleviate the work that goes into feeding people on a weekly basis. I ask people to encourage those who volunteer, marketing the organization, doing a shout out or positive review about the website, donating vehicles, a space, tools for the garden. You can reach out on the website and ask how you can help out and we can discuss.”
Tiara is also looking for people who are interested in urban agriculture and are interested in how it plays a role in politics, so if that sounds like you or someone you know, reach out!
visit www.ditoinc.org for more information.