(Article from the front page of the Chestnut Hill Local, A Reason to Give Thanks – Sue Ann Rybak)
Frank Jenkins’ eyes sparkle. He is quick to laugh and smile as he sits chatting and enjoying a warm meal with friends. Sitting across from Jenkins, I could see the hope and dignity that Face to Face in Germantown provides.
Jenkins, of Mt. Airy, said he likes coming to Face to Face in Germantown, a nonprofit social service organization, because he feels as if he is at home enjoying a meal with friends.
“Our motto is hospitality, mutuality and transformation,” said Susan O’Hagan Marley, director of development at Face to Face. “We welcome everybody here as though they were a member of our family. Just because a person is down on their luck doesn’t mean they are not valuable. Many people here are not used to being looked in the eye. They are used to being invisible. By restoring their dignity and dealing with them as an equal, both of us are transformed.”
Face to Face, at 109 East Price St., is more than just a dining room. It offers art and writing classes, health and legal clinics, computer training and children’s programs. It also has a “Washeteria,” a place where people can take a shower and receive a new set of clothes.
Mary Kay Meeks-Hank, executive director of Face to Face, said the majority of people who come to Face to Face live in deep poverty.
A 2012 Pew Research Initiative Report found that 26 percent of East Germantown residents live in deep poverty, which means living at 50 percent below the Federal Poverty level. That describes a family of four living on $11,700 a year or less, and a single person living on $5,700 a year or less.
Meeks-Hank said while a large portion of Face to Face clients suffer from chronic mental illness, many are just struggling to survive.
She said this year Face to Face is averaging 200 meals a day, from Friday to Monday, compared to 150 in 2012. She said from October 2012 through September 2013, the organization served 28,805 meals, and that in the last six months, Face to Face has seen a dramatic increase of 99 percent in dining room attendance. She said the recent cut of $5 billion in the food stamp program (SNAP) will have a devastating effect on the most vulnerable of our society.
“With the food stamps being gutted, we are bracing ourselves,” O’Hagan Marley said.
She said Face to Face serves not only the homeless, mentally ill and elderly but also the working poor. She said many clients have jobs, but by the end of the month their resources run out.
“Working parents come to us because they can’t make ends meet,” O’Hagan Marley said. “I don’t know what they would do without us.”
Giving the gift of hope
Maeve Buchanan, an eighth grader at Green Woods Charter School in Manayunk, was just one of the many students who collected trial-size toiletries for Face to Face’s Washeteria. Buchanan said she was thankful for the opportunity to give back to the community. She added that it’s important “to see what it’s like to be really poor because sometimes we forget.”
Steve Masterman, dean of faulty and students at Green Woods Charter, said the students collected more than 4,000 items. He said the drive was organized by the Student Leadership Team.
“The holidays have become very commercial, and I want them to understand what it is like to serve and give back to the community,” Masterson said.
Masterson noted that while the school has done food drives in the past, this service project offered the students “a chance to interact face to face with people in the community who are less fortunate than them.” Jessica Craighead, an eighth grader Green Woods, said the drive raised students’ awareness and empowered them.
“It made us realize we can do something about it ourselves,” Craighead said. “I think it will change our perspective on how we view things.” Julie Lucanie, a junior at La Salle University and a coordinator for Feed Philadelphia, also volunteers at Face to Face. She said La Salle students also volunteer at soup kitchens throughout Philadelphia on a weekly basis. Lucanie referred to Face to Face as “the heart of the community.”
Meeks-Hank described Face to Face as “a place where the stranger becomes a friend.”
Face to Face will hold its 21st Annual Turkey Trot five-mile run and one-mile fun run/walk at 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day at Forbidden Drive and Northwestern Avenue. All proceeds benefit Face to Face. To register go to www.lin-mark.com.