Thomas Smith of Cedar Park stood in line with more than 50 people waiting outside Philadelphia Police Department’s 19th District station at 61st and Thompson streets. Smith was one of hundreds of community members who received donated clothes, food and other items from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Smith, 62, is unemployed and said he hopes to pick up some warm clothes for the cold weather. He heard about the giveaway event from another outreach group.
Inside the police station, people browsed through tables of gently used or brand-new items to clothe their families. Frances Williams, of Overbrook, who is the founder and program director of Do Over Ministry, organized the event, called “Helping Hands Project.”
The ministry has a mission to help the homeless regardless of their past.
“The mission is no matter what your situation is, you’re not stuck in that position,” Williams said.
For the past five years, Williams and church volunteers from the Greater Philadelphia Area work together in an effort to serve the homeless of West Philadelphia at the annual event. The ministry team also holds a Christmas in July donation drive.
Throughout the year Williams collects clothing donations from churches, friends and co-workers. She stores the donations in her basement for the Helping Hands Project every fourth Saturday of January. Last year she said the ministry served nearly 300 people.
“I’m a chef by training and the Lord told me he wanted me to feed his people so that’s what I did,” Williams said. “It’s important that we help the individuals with what we can. Now I don’t have a lot of money, but I have the resources to get things.”
Williams said she buys some of the items that she gives away from dollartree.com, while she also asked for donations on her ministry’s website (dooverministryinc.org). An employee of PNC bank at the Philadelphia International Airport, Williams asked her co-workers to volunteer for the event.
One co-worker, Cheryl Gourdine, who is also the outreach coordinator of Grace Temple Baptist Church in Lawnside, N.J., has helped Williams for four years. Gourdine encourages church members to donate items and volunteer at the event.
“We see the same homeless people over and over again each year,” Gourdine said. “Sometimes they share their stories about how much they’ve been blessed by whatever efforts we made.”
Gourdine said the Do Over Ministry is “very important” and that Williams helps motivate the volunteers.
“[Williams] is a powerhouse,” Gourdine said. “She gets people together to help her and people are happy to help.”
The challenge for Williams is finding a permanent building to store donations so that she will be able to hold more donation drives in the future.
“I’m a church without a building,” Williams said. “I’m just praying that somebody will hear me and see what I do and say, ‘Here you can use this space.’ And if and when that happens, I’ll be able to do this once a week.”
Connor Showalter and Jade McKenzie will bring Eyes on the Street and PlanPhilly dispatches from the West Park and Lower South planning districts as part of their work for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a publication of Temple’s Multimedia Reporting Lab. PlanPhilly is a Philadelphia Neighborhoods partner.