Walking throughout the old streets of a neighborhood that residents consider one of Philly’s finest, it is hard to ignore the presence of hard work and generosity that beams off locals.
Port Richmond, a small, blue collar community that runs along the edge of Philadelphia, is an area that contains many loyal residents who share one thing in common; a drive to help those less fortunate.
On the border of the Port Richmond and Frankford neighborhoods sits Binlids, at 2171 Wakeling St. The tiny bar serves as the meeting place for the Port Richmond Division 87 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, also known as the largest Irish, Catholic charity organization in the U.S.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians, known as the A.O.H., was founded in New York City in 1836. The original goal of the organization was to aid the Irish socially and politically in both Ireland and the U.S. Over time, their work has expanded from helping just the Irish, to helping all those in need.
Each division is divided into a men’s group and a women’s group. Although they gather in the same building for monthly meetings, the men and women work separately on their charities.
The women’s group was not established until 1992, but like the men’s group, their main mission is to provide their neighbors who are less fortunate with everyday necessities. Eileen Smith, president of Division 87’s women’s group, is in charge of organizing their charities and deciding where the funds generated go.
“The men donate money to people without health benefits, and we also like to do that, but recently we have been donating a lot of the proceeds to shelters in the neighborhood,” Smith said.
By having monthly pancake breakfasts, a yearly Jingle Bell Run and selling Irish potatoes every Saint Patrick’s Day, the women of Division 87 make over $10,000 each year.
This year, they donated a sum of their funds to Providence House, a shelter in West Kensington.
Jerry Spoerl, a member of the men’s group for almost 20 years, said that the entire division is like a tribe.
“We consider ourselves family. We consider the people in the neighborhood to be family, and what do you do when a member of your family is in need? You do whatever you can to help them out,” Spoerl said.
Members of Division 87 hail mainly from the Port Richmond, Kensington and Fishtown sections of the city. To this day, all members must be practicing Roman Catholics with a devout faith in Jesus Christ and the Roman Catholic Church.
Although members are committed to the organizations motto, “Friendship, Unity, Christian Charity,” like true Irishmen, they make time for fun. They meet every Thursday night to play shuffleboard. Spoerl believes that the backbone of their organization is the bond they share to celebrate life while helping others.
“We came from Ireland, so we like to celebrate that. We stay true to our culture and our faith by giving to others. It makes us feel good at the end of the day,” Spoerl said.
– Text, video and images by Catherine Palmer.