“Homeless to a homeowner” is how Robert K. Anderson describes his life. He went from living in Love Park and being a drug addict to accomplishing more than he would have ever imagined.
And it’s all because of Flora Carmichael, who offered him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at Germantown Seventh Day Adventist Church’s Homeless Ministry on a Saturday morning five years ago.
Carmichael is the community service leader for the Community Service Ministry, which offers low-income Philadelphians nutritious food, clothing and religious literature from the Seventh Day Adventist Church at 200 E. Cliveden St.
A résumé of caring
She began volunteering at the food pantry in 1996 when the former community service leader asked for a ride to the food banks. She viewed it as a sign from God as she had recently prayed about an opportunity that would allow her to contribute more to society.
“Through her prayer and not giving up on me, I managed to get a house, get married, become a grandfather, member of the church and a member of myself again and to give something back,” said Anderson.
“That is what she has done for me through God,” he continued. “That little old lady in there is tough as nails, but has a heart that runs second to God.”
Anderson has been volunteering at the food program for four years. He assists the new program participants by ensuring their paperwork is legible for the city and donors and they have all the information they need in order to expedite the process.
He also monitors the clothing and bread tables, the bathroom and all of the other rooms in the vicinity, which he learned from Carmichael in one day. He currently travels from New Jersey twice a week in order to help Carmichael, who he refers to as his mother.
Selfless and a genuinely caring person is how the West Oak Lane resident was described.
Carmichael supervises pantry operations every Thursday from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. She also handles the administrative duties such as ordering food, calling local grocery stores and businesses in pursuit of donations and promoting the program.
She is also instrumental in ensuring that the program participants have the necessities when it comes to the donated food.
That includes waking up at 4 a.m. twice a week and traveling to two food banks with her husband and godson, John Hall, to select the food that will be served at the pantry. The gates to the food bank do not open until 8 a.m.
“She always makes sure that those in need are helped first and that they have the best of what Philabundace or whoever donates offers and plenty of it,” said Deanna Corbin, a pantry volunteer. “She wants to make sure that their needs are being met.”
Visiting the pantry
During a recent Thursday visit, several yellow bags containing canned fruits and vegetable, cerealand Swiss luxury water surrounded Carmichael.
On the table lay Ziploc bags containing frozen fried chicken, biscuits and pizza that were donated from local restaurants.
Produce boxes overflowed with fresh fruits and vegetables such as cantaloupes, zucchinis, tomatoes, strawberries, oranges, peaches and bananas.
With a small group of volunteers on site, Carmichael watched intently, answering questions when problems arose and eating a bowl of oatmeal because she didn’t get a chance to eat before her morning trip to Trader Joe’s.
“I like to help Flora because of the field I am in,” said Eleanor “Sue” Dukes who is a licensed masseuse and pantry volunteer. “I try to relieve as much stress on her as possible rather than add to it because she deals with so much including very different personalities.”
Carmichael uses her own gas and time to run the panty and is simply grateful with the blessings she has received throughout her life and the help from her volunteers.
“If he was not assisting me,” she said of her godson, “I probably would have quit.”