UrbanPromise’s main Camden campus is located at 36th and Federal. I drive in from suburbia and until last week only our organization was on my radar. Now I am fortunate to know how much good is going on along our street!
First, there is Covenant House, headed up by Father Stephen, who is an Orthodox Greek priest. Located also in Atlantic City, NJ as well as in Philly, the Federal Street storefront operation just started a year ago, and has already served 800 homeless people. I was blessed to meet him after I received an urgent phone call from Jodina – “are you free? There is an emergency.” Here Father Steve had called her because he was sitting with a woman who was very uncomfortable sitting alone with a man – even such a compassionate man as he. She was starting to hear voices. So I walked down the litter strewn block and a half, was greeted effusively, and watched as he finished a game of “table basketball” with her. This young client told me she was only 21; her eyes shone from her gaunt face, her clothes hung loosely from her frame. Father Steve told me later that the moment I walked in her affect calmed. She was ravenous. He had fed her pancakes that morning only an hour before and now he would cross the street to the Bodega to get her some lunch. “Do you think I could have meat?” Of course, was the answer. Did she have a preference? “I don’t think I would, given the circumstances I find myself in.” I visited with her for an hour until a female employee arrived, at which point Father Steve graciously walked me back to UP. He told me she had lived for 12 days in the woods. She had lost her meds and her way. That he had sought mental health services for her but she had been discharged within 24 hours and given cab fare to a motel. Now he was hoping to get her to Atlantic City, where their facility is much larger, including living accommodations and a health clinic where she would be seen and treated. He asked for the names of my family members so he could pray for us, and blessed the house in which I have my office. Jodina says he is an angel in disguise.
Later that week Jodina and I traveled down to 15th and Federal to have lunch at Cathedral Kitchen, a non-profit agency which serves hundreds of food insecure people every week. Run by Karen Talerico, a self-described Italian woman who “loves to feed people”, it is a bee hive of activity which includes culinary art training and certification, tables for families at which to sit and eat, and plans for expansion, which will include a cafe for everyday folk. We were invited to come and brainstorm with them about ways to feed our families better…all this stemming from a presentation I had given at United Way, in which I mentioned a student whose family is often food insecure. Karen remembered the name of the student and wanted to feed her. I could tell she felt pain at the thought of someone going hungry, and that touched me – so many in our society hear about hunger and yet are not moved to feed (Don’t get me started about the reduction in food stamps this fall). We described our programs and they described theirs, finding much common ground. For instance, they would like to provide casseroles to families, but have difficulty identifying specific recipients. We know our families well and can identify those truly in need, but have difficulty (until our new kitchen is built) consistently providing food. We will be needing a chef for our new kitchen when it opens in the new year; they know their culinary art students well and will be able to provide us with reliable candidates. I left that lunch with a car loaded down with food for my student, and a sense, once again, God will provide what we need to improve nutrition in our UP community.