The Center for Hunger-Free Communities

Solutions Based on Science and the Human Experience


Mariana Chilton, PhD, MPH is a nationally recognized leader addressing child hunger in America. She is an Associate Professor at Drexel University School of Public Health, Co-Principal Investigator of Children’s HealthWatch and the Director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University School of Public Health. Dr. Chilton received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from the University of Oklahoma, and Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University. She has testified before the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives on the importance of child nutrition and other anti­ poverty policies.

She has served as an advisor to Sesame Street and to the Institute of Medicine. Her awards include the Nourish Award from Manna, the Unsung Hero Award for Improving the Lives of Women and Girls from Women’s Way and the Young Professional Award in Maternal and Child Health from the American Public Health Association.


Victoria Egan is the Deputy Director for the Center. Victoria will lead our Center through its next phase as we embark on integrating economic security activities into the TANF program and continue to lead the way with Drexel in addressing childhood hunger through research, advocacy and community engagement.  Since 2010, Victoria Egan provided operational, administrative, logistical and financial management for all of the activities and programs of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities. 

Before joining the Center in 2009, Victoria was the Special Projects Coordinator at Our Lady of Lourdes Health System’s Center for Public Health in Camden, New Jersey, where she managed undergraduate and graduate public health internship programs and health disparities research.  Previously, Victoria served as a Commissioned Officer in the U.S. Navy.  During her service, Victoria served as Ship’s Navigator and Acting Operations Officer for the USS COWPENS (CG 63) stationed in Yokosuka, Japan and as Administrative Officer, Legal Officer and Electrical Officer on the USS DULUTH (LPD 6) stationed in San Diego, California.

Victoria is a graduate of Harvard College with a Baccalaureate degree in Biological Anthropology.  She is currently completing her Masters in Public Health in the Executive Program at Drexel University School of Public Health.  Her scholarly work focuses on the ethical considerations and challenges of the Center’s Witnesses to Hunger project, a participatory action research, community engagement and advocacy project.

Alexis Carlsson is a Research Assistant with the Building Wealth and Health Network, as well as an Interviewer for Children’s HealthWatch. She is an undergraduate student majoring in International Area Studies with minors in Nutrition, Public Health, and Spanish, graduating Drexel in June 2017. Her previous work experiences include developing a podcast about civic innovation, education and technology in Philadelphia, as well as canvassing the River Wards to research urban and environmental health hazards. Her passion for food justice, urban farming, nutrition, and community development, both at home and abroad, has led her to complete her second Drexel Co-op at the Center for Hunger-Free Communities.


Lauren Corso, MSW, is the Research Assistant for the Center's Building Wealth and Health Network, where she assists with recruitment and data collection. Before joining the Center, Lauren served as a Graduate Assistant for Millersville University's School of Social Work. While there, she completed practicums at Penn State Law's Children's Advocacy Clinic and an international nonprofit. Additionally, she conducted research projects in Ecuador and Haiti.

Lauren received her MSW from Millersville University and her BA in Communications from Elizabethtown College.

Nijah Newton-Famous, MPA is the Program Manager of the Center’s Building Wealth and Health Network.  She previously worked at ACHIEVEability for 9 years.  She began her career as a Social Worker for single-parent homeless families for 5 years. She then obtained her Master’s in Public Administration from Widener University which allowed her to move into community empowerment and engagement field as the Director of Community Services for her last 4 years. Additionally, Nijah completed an one-year Fellowship with City of Philadelphia Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr.’s office in 2008.  She graduated from Temple University, Cum Laude, with her B.A. in Broadcasting, Telecommunication & Mass Media. When she has the opportunity, she enjoys performing in local Community Theater productions and taking dance classes.

Gabriella Grimaldi is a Research Assistant for Children's HealthWatch. In this position she interviews caregivers of young children about their experiences with health and assistance programs. Often these caregivers become participants in the many other innovative projects at the Center for Hunger-Free Communities. She has a bachelors in psychology from Temple University and a minor in Cognitive Neuroscience, with a concentration in Spanish and Latino studies for Health Professions and is pursuing a career in public health. 


Alie Huxta is the SELF Empowerment Coach in the Center’s Building Wealth and Health Network. She provides a trauma-informed approach to the Network’s Financial SELF Empowerment sessions. She previously facilitated experiential learning and political consciousness with youth at the Freire Charter High School and later with at the University Community Collaborative at Temple.  In this time she was trained to lead Transformational Social Therapy groups, a model that urges people across identities to share personal violences, hopes, and fears in order to reach collective intelligence and solutions. This work led her to pursue a clinical social work degree at Bryn Mawr’s Graduate school for Social Work and Social Research where she studied the psychological effects of oppression as a counseling intern at Women Organized Against Rape. Alie also loves to backpack on the Appalachian Trail, cook with friends, and make songs.

Donnell Jones-Craven is the General Manager for the EAT (Everyone At the Table) Cafe, one of the Center's emerging projects. Donnell is a culinary/hospitality professional with 25 years of experience in the food industry, including upscale dining, hotels, restaurants, healthcare, non-profits, and grocery. Donnell is passionate about people and food and the fellowship it gives to all. He is a recent transplant to Philadelphia from Atlanta, Georgia. Donnell is very interested in food culture, history, insecurity,  sustainability, clean eating and agriculture. His hobbies include cooking, arts, music, family genealogy, travel and reading.  

Angelo Melendez

Molly Knowles, MPH is the Research Manager for the Center's qualitative research including Witnesses to Hunger. She oversees data collection, analysis, and dissemination of the Center's qualitative and mixed-methods studies, including the Witnesses to Hunger and Childhood Stress studies. As part of her masters project as a student in the Masters of Public Health program at Drexel University, Molly helped to launch a Witnesses site in Camden, New Jersey.

Molly graduated with an MPH, concentrating in Health Management and Policy, from Drexel and received her BA in Political Theory from New York University.

Brittany Koch is a Master of Public Health candidate concentrating in Health Management and Policy at Drexel University.  Her public health interests include food insecurity, food policy, and childhood nutrition and obesity.  For her practicum, Brittany will be assisting with an evaluation assessing the efficacy of food insecurity screening and referral to benefits enrollment assistance for families with young children seeking healthcare at CHOP. Prior to joining the Center, Brittany worked for 5 years at a historic architecture library and museum in Philadelphia as both an Archives Assistant and the Membership Coordinator.

Brittany received her BA from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, where she double-majored in Art History and Studio Art.

Neha (Upadhyaya) Lodaya works as a Research Assistant (Data Analysis/Biostatistics) at the Center and is currently in the 2nd year of her Masters of Science in Epidemiology at Drexel University's School of Public Health. She is a Clinical Pharmacist by training and has worked as a Medical Writer and Clinical Research Associate in the pharmaceutical industry and clinical research organizations. Her MS in Epidemiology will be her next step towards continuous learning as it holds a bridging importance in estimation of health conditions, application of interventions and ultimately, assessing the outcomes. At the Center, Neha works on the quantitative aspects of research projects. Neha likes to travel, cook, dance, and listen to music.

Brenna McGinnis is the Participant Liaison for the Center’s Building Wealth and Health Network, a trauma-informed peer support model of microfinance for women receiving TANF. She is the main point of contact for Network participants, assists in the design of the program, and manages communications between participants, facilitators, and the Network’s Research and Program teams.

Brenna previously coordinated the Therapeutic Arts Program at Broad Street Ministry, a non-profit serving individuals experiencing food scarcity, housing insecurity, and extreme poverty. She is a graduate of University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.

Angelo Melendez, MSW, LCSW is the Outreach Manager for the Center. He has over twenty-five years of experience in the social work profession ranging from direct clinical to mental health and juvenile justice program settings. As Outreach Manager, he connects participants from Children’s HealthWatch and Witnesses to Hunger to social services and resources. He earned his Masters in Social Work and BA in Criminal Justice from Temple University.

Falguni Patel, MPH is the Research Manager for Children’s HealthWatch (CHW) Philadelphia and the Center's Building Wealth and Health Network project. She oversees the entire CHW research project in Philadelphia including the interviewing of participants, the management and supervision of research assistants, and the uploading and cleaning of interview data to the national data coordinator in Boston, Massachusetts. Falguni has a bachelors in Psychology from University of Maryland, Baltimore County and her Masters in Public Health from Drexel University.

Lucy Perpich, MPA is the Center's Research Fellow. She is an Interviewer for Children's Health Watch (CHW) Philadelphia. In this position she interviews caregivers of young children about their experiences with health and public assistance programs. Prior to her fellowship with the Center, she worked as a legal advocate for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors and started a non-profit that aids in rehabilitating relationships between parents and their children separated by the court system. She is currently a DrPh candidate at Drexel in the Dornsife School of Public Health. Her research interests include, toxic stress, families experiencing violence, inter-generational violence and intimate partner violence. She received a Master of Public Administration from Penn State and a Bachelors of Business Administration from the University of North Dakota. 

Angelo Melendez

Callie Perrone is the Community Engagement and Communications Fellow for the Center. She provides communications, policy work, and other support to the Center at large, the Witnesses to Hunger program, and the EAT Cafe.  

Callie is a recent Haverford College graduate with a B.A. in Political Science and Peace, Justice, and Human Rights. Her year-long fellowship with the Center is made possible through Haverford House, a post-graduate fellowship program in which selected graduates work at non-profits dedicated to social justice. 

Kate Scully, JD is the Policy Director for the Center.  She works to translate the Center’s research and practices into policy-relevant communications at the local, state, and national levels.  Kate also works closely with the Witnesses to Hunger team to develop steering committees in each Witnesses site to ensure active and engaged advocacy and policy work with members of Witnesses to Hunger throughout the country. 

Kate earned her JD from Widener University where she was the Research Editor of the Widener Law Review. She also has her bachelors in History from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and graduated as a Humanities Scholar.

Angelo Melendez

Kevin Thomas Jr. works with the Building Health & Wealth Network as a Financial Empowerment Coach. His primary role is to facilitate Financial SEG classes for the Networks members. Prior to joining the Center, Kevin was one of Philadelphia’s brightest young bankers for close to a decade, working with industry giants PNC Financial Services, and Commerce Bankcorp. 

Kevin received his B.S. in Business Administration from St. Joseph’s University, and is currently looking to attain his MS in Public Policy at Drexel. Kevin has received several awards for his work in banking, but is most proud of his recognition for community involvement.  In 2009, he was given the “Key to the Neighborhood” by the Wynnefield Business Association, for his community presence, his work with developing and experienced businesses, and his ability to acquire financing for non-profit community based centers in the area. This led to Kevin starting a business advising firm in which he primarily worked with non-profit companies building capacity. Kevin joined the Center in August 2015 in hopes of using his experience to impact the world.


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