Bridesburg’s pantry problem

A Brides­burg food pantry is re­du­cing its hours to curb loc­al com­plaints of over­crowding, but some neigh­bors fear it may not be enough.

A vo­lun­teer at the Brides­burg United Meth­od­ist Church food pantry on Kirk­bride Street stocks shelves in the church’s food pantry. SAM NE­W­HOUSE / STAR PHOTO

Kirk­bride Street is home to the Brides­burg United Meth­od­ist Church, which was es­tab­lished in 1834, around the time the neigh­bor­hood was an­nexed by the city of Phil­adelphia.

But in re­cent years, some res­id­ents say, the church’s mis­sion of aid­ing the poor and needy has be­gun to cause fric­tion with its neigh­bors.

Com­plaints from neigh­bors are that the church’s food pantry at­tracts hun­dreds of people to the neigh­bor­hood, which res­id­ents say causes traffic prob­lems, con­trib­utes to ex­cess­ive trash, and is mak­ing parts of the street ex­tremely un­pleas­ant.

“It’s like liv­ing be­hind a su­per­mar­ket. Would you buy a house be­hind a Shop-Rite?” asked Janice Ab­rams, who has lived for five years next to the church, which is loc­ated at 2717-19 Kirk­bride St. 

The food pantry opened shortly after she moved in, ac­cord­ing to Ab­rams. 

However, in an at­tempt to ap­pease neigh­bors, vo­lun­teer co­ordin­at­or Florence Rodgers said that start­ing Aug. 6, the food pantry would only open on Tues­days, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. She also said she hopes the food pantry can find a new loc­a­tion.

“Ul­ti­mately, yes, we would like to move,” said Rodgers, a Brides­burg res­id­ent for 36 years. “I don’t want to be in a spot where people hate us. It’s hard com­ing here each day.”

But people who use the pantry are fear­ful that the re­duc­tion in pantry hours could lead to the pantry po­ten­tially be­ing closed.

“I don’t know of any oth­er place to go, if they close this place down for good,” said Betty Boyle, who was pick­ing up gro­cer­ies on Thursday along with her daugh­ter, Maur­een Culp. 

Boyle is the moth­er of Phil­adelphia po­lice of­ficer Danny Boyle, who was killed in the line of duty in 1991. Culp, Danny’s sis­ter, was wid­owed two years ago. They said they are pain­fully aware that some neigh­bors strongly op­pose the food pantry.

“Where’s the Chris­tian­ity?” Boyle asked. “Every­one’s one paycheck away from this.”

But Ab­rams said that some food pantry users have ur­in­ated near her house and thrown garbage in­to her back­yard, ar­gued and fought on the street, and once tried to take her lawn chairs. Due to piles of garbage near her house, large num­bers of cock­roaches and oth­er in­sects have ap­peared in her back­yard and she said she has dealt with the stench of mag­gots and rot­ting food out­side her house.

“It’s not that we want to shut it down – it’s just grown to be too big of an op­er­a­tion, and its un­man­age­able. It shouldn’t be between row-houses,” Ab­rams said. “I know it’s a needed thing, but it’s grown past what the size of this area can handle.”

Sev­er­al Kirk­bride Street res­id­ents who de­clined to give their name said that the food pantry causes “con­ges­tion.” Some of them said they had com­plained to loc­al elec­ted of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing state Rep. John Taylor (R-177th dist.)

ldquo;We think that the use that church is go­ing through in terms of the food pantry far ex­ceeds what their per­mit al­lows, far ex­ceeds what is reas­on­able on a res­id­en­tial street, and far ex­ceeds what the neigh­bors will tol­er­ate,” Taylor said.

Taylor ad­ded that he would con­tin­ue to mon­it­or the pantry as it re­duces its hours to see wheth­er it is still a bur­den to the neigh­bor­hood and wheth­er it needs to be re­lo­cated.

“I would be very in­ter­ested in fin­an­cially as­sist­ing with a move should an ap­pro­pri­ate place be loc­ated,” said Bish­op Peggy A. John­son, of the United Meth­od­ist Church, via email. 

Food pantry user An­drew Greene said he lives a few blocks away and this loc­a­tion is ex­tremely con­veni­ent for him. He also de­fen­ded the food pantry’s users. 

“We’re not your ghetto ste­reo­type,” Greene said. “It’s single moth­ers, eld­erly people, and folks like me who are un­der­em­ployed. We all have jobs. But it’s not enough to live off of.”

The Brides­burg food pantry cur­rently sup­plies food to about 250 fam­il­ies from the 19134 and 19137 ZIP codes, ac­cord­ing to vo­lun­teers. They formerly served ZIP codes 19125, 19135, and 19124, and people from those ZIP codes who are re­gistered with the food pantry can still pick up gro­cer­ies there.

But some of the food pantry’s cli­ents live right on Kirk­bride Street.

“I rely on it for my par­ents, be­cause they’re ill,” said Ag­nes Siemi­eni­uk, who lives across the street from the church and picks up food from the pantry. She said the pantry crowds the area, but it’s also cru­cial for people like her­self.

“I nev­er in my life thought I would need to rely on a food bank,” Siemi­eni­uk said. “I see their point and I see the neigh­bors’ point. … Some people don’t re­spect the block. They need to re­spect the neigh­bor­hood.” ••

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