On a humid Tuesday afternoon at the intersection of Kensington Avenue and Hagart Street in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, residents and passersby stopped by the Cast Your Cares Ministry to receive an assembly of midday snacks such as canned fruit, Tastykakes and ice water.
This sight is common to the neighborhood for every Tuesday and Wednesday between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Cast Your Cares leader Jim Snider, 48, aided with a team of volunteers, leads a food cupboard aiming to feed the struggling population of Kensington. The organization provides a biweekly grocery pickup that serves over 80 regular visitors from the neighborhood and beyond every week. In addition, there is a waiting list of nearly 60 people anxiously waiting to join the rotation.
Along with the weekly food donations, Cast Your Cares hosts a hot meal in the reformed lot next to their headquarters on Kensington Avenue every Saturday afternoon. Every weekend a local church or community organization plates heaps of hot meals from hot dogs and beans to lasagna. Hungry resident James Crews, 31, has been stopping by every Saturday since last December to enjoy a hot shower at the neighboring St. Francis Inn and a complete meal provided by Cast Your Cares.
“You can be full before you leave here,” said Crews. “For me, I never know what’s going to happen on Sunday, but I’m always full on Saturdays.”
Operating as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Cast Your Cares works with Philabundance and through donations given by various organizations and people both in and out of Philadelphia.
Cast Your Cares was created by Snider after he, his wife and three children moved to Kensington from West Palm Beach, Florida in 1999. After a few trips to the neighborhood with various missionary groups, Snider and his family decided to stay and help resolve the great need they witnessed throughout Kensington.
“When we first moved here, [the intersection] of Kensington and Front [Streets] was a targeted area for the whole East Coast,” said Snider. “The F.B.I. had targeted it as the worst drug-related neighborhood of the whole East Coast.”
The Snider family created a home along Kensington Ave. which now doubles as the headquarters for Cast Your Cares with a door always open and food always ready to give. After hosting their own small missionary groups throughout the neighborhood, the family became aware of the needs of the streets around them and answered best they could.
“The Saturday outreach started because there were a few guys out front that were hungry…and I had some extra hot dogs. Now on Saturdays we do 350 meals,” said Snider.
As the lines that twist outside of the Sniders’ front door become rowdy with hungry neighbors, the praise for Snider and Cast Your Cares is heard louder than all.
“They actually care. Jim cares, all of his volunteers—they care,” said Crews, catching a few pairs of socks Snider tossed to him after he asked for them a few days prior. “You may not be smelling that good that day, but they still sit down and talk to you and they give you words of wisdom. On some days, I need that—actually, on a lot of days, I need that.”
This week, Cast Your Cares is hosting a church group- which includes a handful of young teenagers new to Philadelphia and charitable work- from Abilene, Texas who have been becoming familiar with Kensington and witnessing through fresh eyes.
“It’s very different from where we’re from,” said Judy Pfluger, 54, who has traveled to Kensington with the mission trip. “To see it on T.V., but when you get right out into it, it is totally different. It’s very sad.”
Although Pfluger and her family are being introduced to Kensington the same way Snider was in 1999, very much has changed beneath the El. “In the past 10 years, we’ve seen a lot of improvement. It’s not as bad as it used to be,” says Snider.
On a block that was once riddled with drug use and prostitution, Snider has seen the allies that once masked violence and drug use turn into parks now occupied by school children. It is important to him to remind the community that this is a place for families and not violence.
“We let people know that this is a place to get help and not fool around and do your monkey business.”
In terms of unbridled altruism, Cast Your Cares hardly limits itself to a “soup kitchen situation.” Snider and his organization have since become a presence similar to the neighborhood’s communal best friend, offering residents transportation to hospitals and job interviews and assisting in drug addiction counseling.
“We really don’t have one specific calling,” Snider said. “We’re just here to help people.”
To learn more about volunteering with Cast Your Cares, please visit www.castyourcares.org.