By Ike Pickett, Quaker Voluntary Service Fellow
On a hot July morning, the corner of Cambria and Germantown Avenue is flooded with cars around St. John Memorial Baptist Church. Neighbors and church members maneuver stacks of cardboard boxes along the iron fence. A couple of children play in the grass. This church, built in 1887 as the Fair Hill Meeting House, now serves as the center for a vital community service: Food distribution.
Across the street, in the grounds of the Fair Hill Burial Ground, young people from Ujima Peace Center’s summer program crest the hill towards the garden—where the HFH gardeners have planted kale, squash, collards, bok choy, tomatoes, and more. The five community gardens: Fair Hill, Semilla, Auburn, Potter, and Evelyn Sanders, are harvested weekly for distribution at St. John’s.
St. John’s has been participating in food distribution for twenty years. For the first fifteen, they served the Frankford and Fishtown communities. Since 2016, they’ve served Fairhill in partnership with the Share Food Program. Ms. Patricia Dockery, a member of the leadership at St. John’s, shares why this program has sustained for so long. “People need it, and we enjoy serving. We’re trying to be where we’re needed. This is our ministry.”
One can’t help but think of Anna T. Jeanes, the Quaker activist and philanthropist interred at Historic Fair Hill, who lived by the motto, “The next needed thing.” Jeanes believed that the action of our lives should be catered towards the most pressing needs of our community, and St. John Memorial Baptist Church lives out this motto. With inflation increasing grocery costs, service work like food distribution is more needed than ever.
“Due to inflation, we’re giving people a very big break. Our goal is really just to harvest the produce and feed the people,” says Hugo Santiago, one of Historic Fair Hill’s gardeners. On a recent Friday morning, HFH was able to contribute over 170 bags of produce to the food stand at St. John’s.
In addition to food justice, St. John’s is planning to start clothing drives later this summer. Their church has also functioned as a Covid testing and vaccination site. They also have ministry around substance abuse issues, where each Monday they offer resources and counseling to people struggling with addiction.
St. John Memorial Baptist Church holds their food stand on Mondays and Fridays, 8-12 PM. It is located at 2853 Germantown Avenue. We are always looking for extra hands to help our gardeners with the Friday morning harvest. Let us know if you are interested in volunteering.