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.” ••