Germantown: First Annual Community Café

Dave Bell leads the health care panel

Local residents convened Sunday afternoon at the Sedgwick Theater for the first annual Community Café. The event, co-sponsored by Neighborhood Networks and MARCHinG for Change, created a forum for people in the community to express their opinions on matters such as health care and safety and to suggest ways of promoting change.

Dave Bell leads the health care panel
A panel at the community cafe

Café organizers reached out to community leaders doing significant work within their fields to moderate a series of roundtables. “There are a lot of people doing things at the grassroots level and they need a forum to share that information,” said Margaret Lenzi, a member of MARCHinG for Change and an organizer for the event. The resulting café consisted of two 45-minute sessions where about 100 attendees could choose among six areas of interest: weatherization, health care, recycling, composting, city services and safety.

One of the most popular panels focused on city services. Panel leader Stan Shapiro of the Coalition for Essential Services discussed the neighborhood impact of the state budget and the current tax system. Currently, Shapiro argued that taxes fall heavily on small, inner-city businesses, while many advocates are pushing to increase taxes for larger corporations importing their goods into the city. Community members gave their opinion on the issues, largely contributing personal anecdotes on the matter and generating ideas to assist city council in tax reform.

Dave Bell leads the health care panel
Dave Bell leads the health care panel.

The health care panel also focused largely on the political process within the city. Dave Bell of Neighborhood Networks briefed the group on the recent  health care bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. He urged everyone to contact and to support U.S. senators from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter and Bob Casey, as they move to push the bill through the Senate. “We need to be vigilant. We have to focus on the immediate needs and pressure points,” Bell said.

Local issues focused on composting and recycling. Two creators of programs in Philadelphia spoke about the eco-friendly benefits. Lee Menicke and Meenal Raval, founders of Philly Compost, created their organization in June after being astounded by the amount of food tossed each night by local restaurants. Now, the duo has collected more than three tons of excess waste and cultivated it into compost in a Germantown area warehouse. Complying with regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the waste is heated to 130 degrees for at least three days to ensure all pathogens are destroyed. By spring, Menicke and Raval said they hope to sell the compost to local gardeners and farmers. “We’d like to keep it as a local food cycle. That’s our ultimate goal,” said Menicke, who encouraged residents to create their own backyard compost piles.

RecycleNOW, an initiative started in Philadelphia a few years ago, is gaining momentum across the city. The program attaches bar codes to recycling bins, which are then weighed by recycling trucks. Users can go online and track their neighborhoods current standing and receive coupons for local businesses. First tested in Mount Airy and East Oak Lane, the program was highly successful.  However, recent budget cuts have had city officials pause the operation throughout the city. Maurice Sampson, a representative of the organization, posed the question, “How will these programs come to fruition?” Responses included contacting local officials, staying informed and encouraging participation among neighbors. “Every day when I walk my dog, I do my own little check,” said Sampson, chuckling.

Weatherization also fell among the more environmentally focused panels. Paul Deery, a representative of Urban Eco Electric, spoke about his company, which leases solar roof panels that provide low-cost energy to residents. “It’s a win-win,” said Deery. “We put the investment into your roof, and you benefit from cheaper energy.” Many panel attendees had questions regarding the program. Although the program requires a 20-year lease, the amount of money saved on energy, which includes a cap current electricity bills, usually eliminates the worry of increased costs.

Community members sign up for panels
Community members sign up for panels.

Neighborhood safety, led by Carpenter’s Woods Town Watch founder Heather Pierce, rounded out the panels. Her ultimate goal is to bring neighborhoods together to reduce the fear of crime. “If you know your neighbors, you watch out for each other,” Pierce said. Her community holds spring events and summer barbecues every year, and she encouraged others to do the same by hosting a holiday party or a potluck. “Start with your block,” she said. “But you need to expand. Remember, one block is one block, and it is part of a community.”

The Community Café proved to be an example of this type of social gathering, said Scott Murray, who is planning his retirement in the area, remarked that this was largely his reason for coming. “It’s an opportunity to meet new people and to learn more about the neighborhood,” he said.

“This is the first annual café, but it has a lot of potential,” said Lenzi, one of the event’s organizers.

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