Story Last Updated: December 2022 Current Position Updated: March 2019
Fittingly parked at LOVE Park in Center City Philadelphia, Toni Johnson serves up a side of Mercy with every meal she dishes out to the homeless men and women who line up even before the hand-painted food truck pulls up.
Almost every Monday evening, you can find Johnson and her children serving homemade and delicious Caribbean food to the homeless community in Philadelphia. It’s a chance for Johnson to not only give back, but to teach her kids the importance of service.
I feel like I have a calling for service. The mission of GMercyU is to give unto others and that’s what we do.
Giving back to the homeless in particular is close to home for Johnson. In the late 1980s, Johnson, a troubled teenager, found herself living on the streets after her mother kicked her out of the home.
Being too ashamed to tell her family, Johnson slept underground until she made her way to St. Stephen's Church in Philadelphia. She was soon placed as a ward of the state and was sent to Sleighton Reformatory School in Glen Mills, Pa., followed by Rebecca Gratz Girls Home in Wynnewood, Pa., which is now a Red Cross Shelter for the homeless.
To say Johnson was a perfect fit for GMercyU, a University rooted in service, is an understatement. Toni has spent her whole life giving back through her passion for food. She has volunteered and worked for numerous non-profits, including Philabundance, where she is now a Sous Chef and Baking Instructor.
In 2010, Johnson felt as if she was ready for the next step in her career, so after some researching, she stumbled upon GMercyU. What she found in GMercyU was much more than an education; she gained a support system, encouragement and the reinforcement to never give up.
"I have six children and I'm divorced. Many nights I cried, but my group supported me when I needed them," Johnson said.
Johnson earned both her associate and bachelor's degree in business administration and organizational management from the School of Graduate and Professional Studies*. She earned the distinctive Outstanding Alumni Award at the 2015 Honors Convocation and is now part of GMercyU’s Alumni Board.