Poverty Beat: A Community Caring for Itself

Sonny Floyd, Advocate employee of three years and lifelong North Philly resident says he loves his job because it gives him a sense of responsibility. Photo by Meaghan Pogue

Times are tough in North Philadelphia as rampant poverty and unemployment continue holding neighborhoods hostage. In an effort to alleviate the socio-economic and mental hindrances systemic poverty and urban blight can cause, the Church of the Advocate is building a support system.

Located in North Philadelphia, where more than half the population lives below the poverty line, the Advocate is faced with an overwhelming amount of need. According to the Census, the blocks around the church have fallen deeper into poverty over the past decade as more than 25,000 people report falling 200 percent below the poverty line in 2012, an increase of more than 1,000 people from 2000 reports.

“We know the issues of economic and social standings of people in this neighborhood,” says Lynn Buggage, the Parish Administrator at the Advocate. “The church has always positioned itself to be a respite, to try to help people make their way through whatever the next transition of their life is.”

Mamie Mathis worked in kitchens her whole life. Mathis says her job as chef of the Advocate Cafe is one of the more difficult kitchen jobs she’s had, as tight budgets require her to get creative with the menu. Photo by Meaghan Pogue

The Advocate offers dozens of services to help guide people through those transitions, but according to Buggage, one reason the church is able to assist so many people is because of the trust they have built between volunteer and patron.

The few daily volunteers and employees of the Advocate, most of whom are from the surrounding community themselves, have made the church a place to get help and a community to trust. Most of these volunteers have experienced the same struggles as the patrons themselves, allowing them to bridge the delicate gap between those looking to help and those in need.

After volunteering at the Advocate for three months, Carroll Robinson says the work "enhances his happiness."
After volunteering at the Advocate for three months, Carroll Robinson said the work “enhances his happiness.”

Volunteer turned employee Kelvin “Sonny” Floyd grew up down the block from the Advocate and remembers playing on the playground of the church when he was a kid. Now, more than 40 years later, Floyd says looking after people of his own community brings him happiness and pride in his ability to handle the responsibility.

“Everybody likes what I do and how I do it. When I came into the Lord it made it much better for me to recognize myself as a person who could help other people. ”

According to Buggage, it is faces and stories like Floyd’s that really enables the church to change the lives of others.

“I think it raises the trust level because they are able to see and say ‘I know that women who is volunteering in there today. I remember when she was struggling with the issues she had, I can talk to her about what I’m going through.’ It’s the difference between empathy and sympathy.”

– Images, video and text by Meaghan Pogue

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