Despite the gloomy, rainy day, a line forms alongside the tan brick building, it’s red awning displays Chosen 300 Outreach and Worship Center. Men and women patiently wait outside as volunteers set up for the first batch of meals to be served.
It is estimated there are approximately 4,000 persons who are homeless on any given day in Philadelphia, not including those in transitional housing, low-demand residences, or in substandard conditions, according to Project H.O.M.E.
Chosen 300, founded by Brian and Shandai Jenkins, is an inter-denominational organization that has been feeding the homeless of Center City Philadelphia for the past 16 years. The organization currently boasts three locations in Philadelphia: the Spring Garden Street location, West Philadelphia and Pottstown, and 16 locations worldwide including Ghana, Jamaica, India, Nigeria and Liberia.
Since the organizations’s inception in 1996, Chosen 300 ministries has joined forces with 75 churches and organizations of different denominations and races to form the Chosen 300 Alliance, an agreement made with local churches and organizations to commit to feeding the homeless one Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Saturday out of the month.
This Monday, members of the Branch Creek Community Church dedicated their time to serve meals to those in need. The church was introduced to the organization 10 years ago by Bet and Jay Hambleton of Hambleton Builders, who built the organizations current locations.
“They told the church what was going to happen here and the vision that they had,” said Jim Rolon, lay pastor at the Branch Creek Community Church. “And the church became a part of the ministry and we started supporting it once a month.”
A half hour before the doors are set to open, members of the church and other volunteers set up tables, chairs, bottled water, and fork, spoon and napkin sets. In the back, more members of the church set up a table full of donated clothes, shoes and purses for the homeless.
“It’s important for the community to realize that a place like this, and it’s not just one church. It’s an accumulation of churches throughout the region that have come together through the body of Christ and say, ‘We’re going to go past our denominations. We’re going to look past the differences or what we have or don’t have in common,’” Rolon said. “We have a common goal and that’s to reach people through Christ spiritually and feed them physically with food and drink. So it’s a powerful ministry.”
At 6 p.m. people file in one by one, each getting a squirt of hand sanitizer before scouring through the donated items and then readying themselves for a hearty meal of chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, coleslaw, a roll and Oreo cookies for dessert.
Marcus Thompson, 50, has been coming to Chosen 300 for a few months now and said he has been impacted immensely by the overwhelming support of the organization.
“They gave me a place to be more comfortable and deal with my inner emotions that I was going through,” Thompson said. “And it showed me how to be appreciative of other people, like how Chosen 300 cares for not just one group of people but all people.”
On March 14, Mayor Michael Nutter announced a regulation which will ban outdoor feeding of the homeless in all city parks, much to the dismay of several organizations, including Chosen 300.
“You cannot eliminate outdoor meal programs,” said Brian Jenkins, whose organization also feeds the homeless at 16th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. “We lack in the city of Philadelphia for indoor meal programs. There has to be a way to create more space and make it easy for organizations to acquire space and also to be able to open that space.”
It’s “an issue about food safety, and public safety and public health,” Nutter said at his press conference.
“There was a hearing by the health department and one of the things that came out of the hearing was that the homeless were testifying that the problem is not with the outdoor meals,” said Executive Director Brian Jenkins. “The problem is with the meals at the city-run shelters that are currently regulated. They said they just weren’t even edible and they often get sick from them. So they don’t like to eat at the shelters, they like to come outside and eat even if it’s in the cold.”
As if on cue, a volunteer walks in with a handful of broken cookies she routinely gives the executive director so they won’t be distributed to the homeless.
“The fact that we won’t serve a broken cookie to a homeless person shows the quality of service that we have here,” Jenkins added.
Disappointed by the potential budget cuts for 2013, which will see a 20 percent reduction in social services, thereby ultimately adding to the homeless population currently on the streets, the organization is filing an injunction against the ban, with plans on taking this all the way to the federal court.
Despite the looming threat of two warnings and a fine of $150, Jenkins is not deterred.
“Somebody had to sit at the front of the bus one day,” said Jenkins. “So when we look at our modern day situations, how we are together now is because somebody broke the law. So henceforth, we will break the law.”