It’s about 1 p.m. at Ms. Tootsie’s Restaurant and owner Keven Parker is as cool as a cucumber even though he is just minutes away from doing interviews with several news outlets. Today’s leg of the “Spread the Love Tour” is off to a late start because a staff member is tardy and they’ve got a lot of ground to cover.
Each month Mt. Airy resident Keven Parker and his team of Ms. Tootsies staffers criss cross the city in their “Spread the Love” truck, stopping at grocery stores, gas stations, lunch trucks and utility offices to pick up the tab for 10 lucky strangers in need of a helping hand.
Parker has been in the restaurant business for 15 years, but the goodwill tour is more recent. The year-long campaign was designed to help those struggling during the harsh economic climate and restore their belief in the goodness of their fellow man. The inspiration came from conversations that Parker had with his late mother, Joyce “Ms. Tootsie” Parker. His mother’s nickname came from her love of Tootsie Rolls.
While the conversations with his mother involved ways to help West Philadelphians who were struggling financially, Parker expanded his efforts to reach out to the neighborhoods surrounding his Southwest restaurant as well. With the passing of his mother in July, Parker was determined to fulfill all the dreams they had. He felt that there was no better time than 2012 to start the campaign. “[I would like to] change the pulse beat, change how people view Philadelphia, change how we view ourselves and just to pay it forward and spread a little love,” said Parker.
Patty Bean, Parker’s best friend for more than 30 years, said that the “Spread the Love Tour” is so typical of Keven even though he normally does not like to be in the spotlight.“He is such a humble person and is willing to give his last penny,” said Bean. “If we could get 100 more Kevens with his thought process and heart, this world would be a much better place.”
This was the third tour of the year and the team began the day by stopping at Guapos lunch truck in Love Park. Lunch trucks are a key stop on their tour because Parker knows what it is like not to be able to afford a mid-day meal. Right after college, when money was tight, Parker ran a tab at a lunch truck in Center City, a place that trusted him to pay when he was able.
Blythe Wimbush, an employee at a nearby law firm was at Love Park for the first time all year because of the 70 degree weather reports. As she was reaching into her back pack for her wallet, Parker informed her that he was going to pay for her lunch. She, like most of the customers, was completely shocked and wanted to know more about the tour and restaurant. She found the team’s generosity refreshing.
“It is the city of Philadelphia and I find that people here are some of the best-hearted people that I have ever encountered so it’s nice, especially considering the economy, them coming out and doing this,” said Wimbush. “Little acts of kindness can go a long way and really get us to feel good about one another and being a part of a community”.
At around 2:15 p.m. the team stopped at a seemingly-empty Save-A-Lot grocery store in South Philadelphia and began patrolling the aisles for a person to help. That is where they met Georgia Greene, a resident of 16th and Reed Street, who was in the meat section trying to select the perfect ham.
With the whole team waiting for Greene to complete her shopping trip, a team member decided to talk to Greene alone where she described the experience by saying “I looked at him like I was going to have a heart attack.”
Greene frequents that grocery store weekly, making small purchases each week because she travels by bus. This shopping trip included peppers, tomatoes, canned pineapples, ham and other items, totaling $24.37. In addition to buying Greene’s groceries, the team gave her a $50 gift card to defray the costs of her next shopping trip.
“Nobody has ever done anything like this for me,” said Greene. “It shows that somebody still cares.
Parker said that helping people Georgia like Greene is what it is all about because they just changed her day, maybe even her life.
The Spread the Love tour occurs every fourth Monday of the month.
For more information, or to nominate someone who could use a helping hand, visit Parker’s website, mstootsiesrbl.com/spreadthelove.