Tucked in the center of a community that has been battling drugs and violence for generations shines a block filled with hope and love.
As of March 23 of this year, the Kensington section of Philadelphia falls in the top five neighborhoods with the highest crime activity with 1,250 recorded crimes thus far, as stated by PEW Research’s “Philadelphia 2013; State of the City,” The same study shows that 23.2 percent of the neighborhood’s residents are living in poverty.
Lying beneath the El along the 2400 block of Kensington Avenue between York and Cumberland Streets is a cluster of resources for individuals and families looking to escape the darkness brewing a few blocks away. The various organizations operate through donations, faith and a sense of humanity that seems to gleam with hope as they form a support system for each other and the neighborhood.
Saint Francis Inn
St. Francis Inn took the place of an abandon bar on the corner of Kensington Avenue and Hagert Street December 1979 and has been serving the community with hot meals, a place to sleep and an open door ever since. The Inn is staffed with friars, sisters, lay members and volunteers that come from around the country to help those struggling within the community.
Operating solely off donations, the Inn serves 10 hot meals a week with as many as four hundred served in a day. They also hand out toiletries, clothing and prayer services in the chapel in the second floor of their building.
Bernie Ray, a chef for St. Francis who was once an addict who used the resources provided by the block states that “a lot of the children around here wouldn’t get the nourishment [they need] if this place and places like across the street [Cast Your Cares] weren’t here.”
The Last Stop
Standing across the street from St. Francis Inn at 2440 Kensington Avenue, the Last Stop Club House exists as a recovery house underneath the El. The letters NA and AA painted on a yellow building stand as a welcome flag for anyone looking to get sober, no matter their condition.
Owner Eddie Zampitella started the Last Stop in 2001 after overcoming addiction and wishing to share his sobriety with the neighborhood and aid them in their own quests.
The Last Stop uses two nearby buildings on the block as housing for both men and women looking to crash and get sober. Various times throughout the day people line the wooden benches for meetings and work together to find a light in the darkness that the surrounding neighborhood perpetuates. Those staying at the Last Stop take advantage of the resources along the 2400 block of Kensington Avenue and many credit them to their success with obtaining sobriety.
Operating through the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, the Last Stop offers addicts and alcoholics a way to become independent of their addictions
“We teach a person how to be an adult, a man, a woman and stop being so selfish,” says Chris Marshall, 37, who used the club house as a path to sobriety.
S.K.A coffee house first opened its doors to the Avenue in August 2011. Started as an outreach effort by Pastor Dan Roth and the Summerfield-Siloam United Methodist Church, S.K.A has had no trouble fitting right into the block.
An acronym for Serving Kensington Avenue, the coffee shop does exactly what its name leads you to believe. Brewing at 2418 Kensington Ave., S.K.A. fuels the neighborhood with caffeine and a quiet place to escape a community that can so commonly be overwhelming. Bookshelves with religious literature and James Patterson novels sit open to the public and a computer area is available to all, as long as it is used for good.
S.K.A. coffee house holds Bible readings throughout the week and karaoke on Friday and Saturday nights which offers everyone the chance “to be a star in front of a supportive crowd,” as stated by their Facebook page.
What resonates most through the coffee house is the sense of love that manager Jimmy G pours onto every passer-by.
Cast Your Cares
At 2438 Kensington Avenue, lines are always stretching from organizer Jim Snider’s front door every week as he fills the hands of over 80 visitors with bags of groceries. Cast Your Cares is a vital part to the operation happening on the block and Snider is a resource within himself, offering drive to the doctor’s office or a steppingstone in the next step to recovery.
When St. Francis Inn isn’t serving a hot meal on weekend afternoons, Cast Your Cares fills the gap by opening up its side gates and allowing the neighborhood to sit down to dinner.
Although the 2400 block of Kensington Ave. has no picket fences or a man in a knit sweater asking for all to be his neighbor, it has a sense of brotherhood that permeates through’ its noisy, cluttered streets.
“Those people who have little hope left in them, or no hope at all, we try to give them hope…” says Marshall of Last Stop, “here we show them there is something different on this block, you can see it out front, too, it’s noticeable.”