It is just before 5 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon, and there are dozens lined up outside the doors of St. John Church. Some have carts, others have suitcases, while others have mere empty trash bags. When they leave the church, they all hope to hold the same thing: food.
Just a couple blocks down from Mayfair Elementary School, on Tyson Avenue, you can find Feast of Justice located behind the walls of St. John’s Church.
“They come in, we scan their barcode, and we know exactly how much they may be eligible for, what programs they might be able to receive today, and go from there,” said Rev. Tricia Neale, who runs Feast of Justice.
The organization has been around for over 25 years and believes, according to their website, “poverty doesn’t distinguish between young and old, it doesn’t recognize race or religion, male or female, or even working or unemployed. It is indiscriminate and spreading. The one piece that is held in common is that the people that Feast of Justice serves are our neighbors, our community, and the people we meet on the block. They need our help.”
“The community cupboard is our big program where guests get to go in and chose the food themselves,” said Neale. “The amount that they can select from is based on the size of their household. Then everyone is assigned a shopping assistant as well so that everyone will feel comfortable about the process.”
The pantry distributes about 10,000 pounds of food a week, adding up to roughly 500,000 pounds a year, Neale said.
Here at the pantry, about 60 families will be served on this day, according to Neale. This was their semi-monthly community cupboard, which feeds families emergency and supplemental food each month to get them through.
“They have been a great impact with my family and I. The things that they give you. They feed you and it is well worth coming to and well worth talking about. Because, it’s a blessing,” shared a community member who wished to remain anonymous because of the stigma surrounding poverty.
A popular event that Feast of Justice holds is both Feast Day and Feast Night. Feast Day consists of a monthly lunch where guests are able to enjoy a hot meal while listening to community speakers and receiving community resources. Feast Days are held on the third Tuesday of the month starting at noon. Feast Night is similar to Feast Day instead guests are being served a community dinner. Feast Nights are held on the second and fourth Thursday of the month starting at 6 p.m.
Feast of Justice is made up of a number of different volunteers from local neighbors, partner congregation members, students, people seeking community service hours, guests of the program, and retirees.
“I retired from the school district of Philadelphia, I was a librarian, and I retired on a Friday and started on a Monday. I have been here for 10 years,” Feast of Justice volunteer Ann Yamamoto said. “My favorite part about this place is to know that you are helping people.”
Yamamoto said the rise of the choice model gives guests comfort and dignity. In most pantries, guests are given pre-packed bags of food and supplies.
“When I first started everyone who came to get food was just given a bag and whatever was in the bag was what they got,” Yamamoto said. “Now, they can go and shop. Some people donate pork, and get chicken, and beef. The people are very happy.”
Neale said another advantage to the choice model of the pantry is to better accommodate guests’ specific dietary needs. Guests have carts and shopping assistants that help them in their selection.
Hunger programs are not the only thing Feast of Justice is known for. They provide both educational and counseling services for the community to help families and individuals become more self-sustainable. Individual, group, and family counseling is provided through Holy Family University. Community members also have the option of taking nutritional classes through programs like Einstein’s A Better Health Program and A Taste of African Heritage Program.
“Our goal is to encourage people to make healthier choices in their life regarding their eating habits,” said Nikita Peden, a community health educator from Einstein Hospital, who is tasked with offering recipes and dietary habits to guests of the pantry. She has been doing it now for over 20 years. “What we do is prepare different recipes for people to try and we use a lot of food in the pantry or a lot of food in the neighborhood where it’s more convenient for people to afford a more accessible, to have accessibility to those foods in the neighborhood.”
One of Feast of Justice’s more popular programs is Reading Buddies, a summer enrichment program designed for children in 1st-6th grade. The program is a camp-like environment with mentors, crafts and even cooking activities.
Feast of Justice also offers case management through their benefits counselor Dara Leinweber every Friday where community members can receive help in applying for benefits that they may qualify for like Food Stamps (SNAP) and Medical Assistance (Medicaid).
Feast of Justice is more than just a food bank. It is an organization with opportunities for the community to transform and prosper.
Photos, text and video by Rob DiRienzo and Jenna Faccenda