Philly awards 20 grants to Kensington groups battling opioid crisis

Volunteers with New Kensington CDC clean up in Kensington on June 1, 2020. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Volunteers with New Kensington CDC clean up in Kensington on June 1, 2020. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

City officials on Wednesday awarded a total of $200,000 to 20 grassroots organizations and community groups dedicated to improving the quality of life in Kensington, Harrowgate, and Fairhill, three neighborhoods at the epicenter of Philadelphia’s opioid crisis.

Each group will receive a $10,000 grant for general operations through the Kensington Community Resilience Fund, a public-private partnership launched in late April to empower and support organizations that work to mitigate the community impacts of the epidemic. Opioids caused the lion’s share of the 1,214 drug overdose deaths recorded by the city last year.

The grants awarded through the fund target six priorities: public safety and gun violence, youth development, workforce development and training, beautification and blight removal, connecting residents to resources, and community trauma.

Under the program, the money can be used for overhead costs like rent and salaries, as well as program costs, events, and supplies.

“We really wanted to support smaller grassroots efforts already taking place in the community, but oftentimes don’t have a development department to write [grant] proposals or don’t have the capacity to write proposals,” said Joanna Otero-Cruz, Philadelphia’s deputy managing director of community services.

A total of 48 organizations applied for a grant during the program’s inaugural cycle, including  Taller Puertorriqueño, an arts-focused nonprofit in Kensington. Executive director Dr. Carmen Febo San Miguel said her group will use the grant money to support existing art education programs for students, as well as events, including community exhibitions.

“We believe art is transformational,” Febo San Miguel said. “Art is integral in part of the fabric of this community and an active player in challenging all of the negative forces that impact our community,”

Buddy Osborn, senior pastor of Rock Ministries of Philadelphia, said his group will use part of the grant his group got to upgrade two air conditioners inside its wellness center, which provides non-emergency medical services like HIV testing and wound care to people experiencing homelessness, sex workers, and others.

The rest of the money will be used to purchase new patient software for the wellness center. Obsorn said the technology will make it easier to track what services people are taking advantage of most.

“That will take us to another level,” Osborn said.

Under the initiative, all grant applications were first reviewed and evaluated by a community grantmaking panel composed entirely of Kensington-area residents. The panel’s recommendations were then submitted to the steering committee of funders and city representatives charged with overseeing the fund and bringing resources to the table.

The board of directors at Bread & Roses Community Fund, which provides administrative support to Taller Puertorriqueño, had final say on grant receipts.

A second round of grant funding is expected to open in the fall.

Wednesday’s announcement comes more than a year after the city wrapped up the Philadelphia Resilience Project, an emergency program launched in 2018 to combat the opioid crisis.

The large-scale initiative involved 35 city offices and focused on seven “key mission areas.” They were: clearing major encampments, reducing criminal activity, reducing the number of unsheltered individuals, reducing trash and litter, reducing overdoses and the spread of infectious diseases, increasing treatment options, and mobilizing community resources.

The Kensington Community Resilience Fund is an outgrowth of that effort.

The program’s funders include the city, the Douty Foundation, the K Ten Kids Foundation, the Patricia Kind Family Foundation, the Scattergood Foundation, and the Nelson Foundation.

An anonymous individual donor also contributed money to the fund.

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