Why the Philly Peace Park sees a string of devastating burglaries as an ‘opportunity’

The garden at the North Philly Peace Park. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The garden at the North Philly Peace Park. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A string of thefts has hamstrung the Philly Peace Park’s ability to provide free food and programming at its North and West Philadelphia locations. But the staff has no interest in pressing charges. They’re opting instead for a community-based solution.

“We want to use this as an opportunity to bring everyone together in a stronger way,”  said Lavinia Davis, director of mental health and wellness at the Philly Peace Park. “We also know sometimes when people take things, it’s ‘cause you’re in need. But … we want to work together. You should never feel like you have to take from the community space.”

Last fall, two printers and a television used for presentations were stolen from the farming and education-focused organization’s North Philly site, Davis said, and the park was vandalized. Then in the last few weeks, she said, items including a porta-potty, a generator, folding tables, a sound system used for yoga classes and other programming, and essential farming equipment disappeared from the park’s West Philly site, which launched in 2020.

“It’s February now. We’re preparing to clear out our beds, get ready to start planting in March,” Davis said. “All of this, like the shovels to dig — like all of the things that’s needed — are no longer there.”

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The organization launched a fundraiser on GoFundMe Monday, looking to raise $3,000 to replace the items at the West Philly site (as of Tuesday afternoon, they’d raised nearly half the goal). Staff plans to work on restoring the North Philly site next. But raising money is just part of the solution.

The Peace Park plans to hold community conversations to talk about the impact of the thefts and come up with an appropriate resolution. Ultimately, staff hopes to connect with the people behind the thefts, or their families, with the goal to “pull people in” while holding them accountable.

“If you do know the individuals, have them come and talk to us,” Davis said. “Obviously we would like our property back, but we want to talk about ways to repay the community … which could be donating your time, coming out to volunteer, feeding your community.”

The approach is an extension of the conflict resolution work the Peace Park already does, Davis said.

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“Reporting someone — it’s not going to fix the issue,” she said. “You’re only going to have someone continue to do the same thing or feel like they are disposable once again. But maybe if we can talk to each other and help people understand why it was wrong, why you shouldn’t do these things, that’s a start for us.”

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