If you’ve ever met Richard DeJesus, which you probably have if you live in Fairhill, he was probably trying to put a hamburger in your hand and asking you what kind of juice box you’d like. Or maybe you saw him at 9 a.m. outside of the Tabernacle Mission church doing what he does best: giving.
DeJesus was born with a huge heart and the urge to give. When he was twenty he started what he calls his mission. “When I was small and growing up I saw the needs of people and I started being Santa Claus and giving out toys. When Christmas time would come my mother would say ‘There you go again with your crazy self!’” DeJesus said. One year DeJesus was shot in a drive by shooting. “I had a lot of kids crying ‘Santa’s been shot!’ but it was so beautiful to have people there to care… And I’m still doing Santa Claus!”
DeJesus’s mission is to feed the hungry. His goal is to create a large community cupboard that would not only be available to Fairhill residents but all of the needy in Philadelphia. “I want to service all zip codes,” DeJesus said. Right now he’s serving more than 800 families.
Born in raised at Eighth and Lehigh streets, DeJesus is one of those remarkable people that has the noteworthy gift of empathy and caring, so much so that despite being on a fixed income he is known to constantly give out of pocket to pay for food he then gives away for free.
Richard has even started his own group called Richard and Friends which is composed of people who are also out to help their community. “I like to spread myself around and show some love and help those who need it.” DeJesus said.
A year ago he met Lisa Morales who had the idea to start a fashion show club for girls in low income families who were on the verge of getting sucked into Fairhill’s drug problem. Morales pitched the idea to DeJesus and immediately the two began to work together to make the idea a reality. “Anything she needs or does, I’m there for her. I respect this woman,” DeJesus said. Even though DeJesus’s mission is centered on feeding the hungry, it isn’t within his character to turn down a good cause.
Jonathan Centeno, the organizer for EPIC (Equal Partnership in the Community) Stakeholders, an organization that brings together “individuals who live and/or work in a community and are actively involved in the continued development of that community,” is another friend of DeJesus and refers to him as “Richie.” Centeno has brought people like Paola Pedraza-Rivera from Fight for Philly, together with Dejesus so that they can help one another achieve good. “He’s a dreamer,” Centeno said, “and he’s extremely humble. He’s a servant at heart; he loves to serve people. I think the way Richie expresses his love is actually by giving things to people.”
DeJesus lives on East Venango Street with his wife Christine, three dogs and one small orange cat. Not only a people-lover, DeJesus turned out to be an animal lover as well. His backyard, though next to a lot where junkies frequent, is a thing of pride for Dejesus because he frequently has a moon bounce set up in the back for kids and a garden box so he can teach children how to grow vegetables.
DeJesus used to work as a security guard but was injured while on duty causing him to be disabled. “I broke four of my ribs and got a pinched nerve on my right side.” DeJesus said, adding as he does so often, “But God is good.”
So why would someone who already has such limited funds want to give any away? “You make a change when you see people happy. I remember one time when I started, a family came from out of town and had nothing, had like $300 and I bought them groceries and that was the best day of my life.”