ABOVE PHOTO: Courtesy of Jim Brown
By Jim Brown
Families and innocent children shouldn’t be punished due to the lack of the basic necessities during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis; they should be rewarded with support and help in order to provide a safe environment within their communities..
The idea of the pop-up food program serves both purposes. Driving through Mantua on a recent Saturday afternoon, I visited the local playground at 37th and Mt. Vernon Streets and saw an outpouring of community support and service that has gone unnoticed by some media outlets that should be shared with their viewers, listeners and readers who may not know that these kinds of services exist.
The individuals who participate in this particular weekly pop-up food program are Derrick “Bub” Pratt of PC Radio Live.com and DeWayne Drummond, president of the Mantua Civic Association. Both men talked about why there was need for this service and the urgency in their community as lifelong residents.
“One of the things we do is to provide food in our community so that no one goes hungry. We come out weekly and give out food,” Pratt said.
“We have many distributors to help our community with this program.They are Philabundance, SHARE, Fresh Grocer, ALDI supermarket and Save A-Lot. These people give back to us to help the community.” “I also run a program called Community Connectors, where I work with PEC (People’s Emergency Center), We Embrace Fatherhood and we distribute this food on a weekly basis,” he continued. “And not only do we feed the body, we feed the mind, so, we partnered up with AEL (Action for Early Learning) to bring [the] children books on a weekly basis.”
This food program giveaway had a different feel to it, as I observed a couple of other organizations partnering to not only nurture the stomachs of children and families who live below the poverty line, but engage the children with the free books, empowering these young boys and girls through an impromptu reading session with Drummond.
“It means a whole lot to the community,” Drummond said. “We’ve been doing this before COVID-19, and COVID-19 has made us go smarter about how we provide resources to the community. This has been an underserved community for years, and it’s a good thing — a very good thing.”
All are welcomed and encouraged to visit their food program, said Southwest Philadelphia resident Laura Woozley, who brings her five children to the program.
I spoke with her about the importance of the program and how it helps her family in their time of need. “I do this very frequently,” Woozley said. “Just to get from my part of the city and enjoy the ride to get here, because I like coming to this playground. And I signed up for the Pop Up Food Program giveaway with my kids.”
“To me, it’s definitely getting some resources,” she continued. “But [ the program is also]bringing the community together for people that are in need of [other]things. I love getting books for them, because we love to read as a family and my book collection at home is getting very extensive.”
Seeing kids playing safely in the playground, getting a reading lesson and receiving other free giveaways inspired the group to expand and include other services.
“While kids were out of school, we learned that a lot of kids were going hungry everyday, so we partnered up with Wells Fargo and Food Connect, and they provided us [with] these box lunches. And we bring them out here to the 37th & Mt. Vernon Street Playground to distribute these lunches to the community. We felt it was important to help feed our community and to make sure these kids had something to do besides sitting in the house during this pandemic.”
The participation of the organization, Royal Little Sisters supported the food program giveaway with information to parents to empower their daughters to be contributing and bright young ladies in the community.
“Our contribution is that we are a youth mentoring program for girls ages 5 to 18 years old,” said Bonita Ortiz, Royal Little Sisters founder and president. “So, we wanted to come out today and hand out face masks and hand sanitizer to help flatten the curve [of coronavirus] and we wanted to help keep the community safe by getting these items to them.”
One gentleman, Fred Stokes, stopped by to pick up some boxed lunches for his mother’s best friend, a 93-year-old neighbor. He commented on what this program means to the seniors who can’t get out to get their own food.
“Well, Jim, it goes way back to how you were raised and came up,” Stokes said. “Families did for families. Knowing that she doesn’t have any younger members of her family, and she’s my mother’s best friend, that’s my civic duty to do this.”
The boxed lunches are available to anyone who stops by the site from 12pm to 2pm on Saturdays.
“We’ve been doing this program for 22 weeks,” Pratt said. “But I know that we’ve served at least 300 boxed lunches on a weekly basis, as well as 40 boxes of produce. So, each adult that comes is able to take up to 3 to 4 box lunches home for the kids. Because we have COVID-19 social distancing requirements, we don’t recommend people bring their whole family. We have given out over 6,600 lunches and 880 boxes of produce to the community.”
The rewarding experience for communities like Mantua and its community leaders is to help nourish the body and mind of those residents in their village. On a bag of Doritos in the boxed lunch, there was a message for humanity and it read, “Be kind today and offer to help someone.” This is what makes programs like these become a “win-win” and a beacon of hope for the families they serve.