The Lady on the Basilica Steps

Ss. Peter and Paul Basilica

This article should just about write itself. It has all the elements to tug at the heartstrings like classic poverty porn. However, this is what has made it so hard for me to write. After more than 30 years writing newsletters and blog posts about the shocking way the poor, the disabled and the aged are treated in our country, it has gotten old. It has only gotten worse, with the government cuts to every kind of assistance and the general hardness of hearts in our society. It is just downright depressing.

Last Friday evening, Tony found a woman, about my age, lying on the Cathedral steps and invited her over to see what we had to offer. She was very timid. We had to invite her to accept each thing, some soup, pumpkin rice, hard boiled eggs, pie, etc. It was apparent that she could hardly speak due to stroke damage. She needed a better hat and a blanket. Susan found these for her. She had tears of gratitude as the hat was placed on her head and the thick blanket was wrapped round her shoulders. She shuffled as she walked and didn’t have full function of her hands. What a picture! She sleeps outside the Basilica. St. Basil founded a city for the poor with free hospitals and shelters funded by taxation on the rich! She sleeps in the cold on the steps of the Basilica! In one of the richest countries in the world, where we pay three times more per capita for healthcare than all but one other country, yet, somehow, we can’t afford to take care of the lady sleeping on the Basilica steps.

Perhaps she can qualify for Medicaid or public housing, or SSI. I don’t know. I do know that the process to get these benefits is anything but easy. I am a fully vocal person, with a place to store my records and a phone. It took months of back and forth and filling out forms to get Medicaid. It took years to get SSI after having six strokes, kidney failure, cPTSD, a summer of disabling migraines, my business failing, and almost losing my house to foreclosure. We are almost certainly going to lose it to foreclosure because they still have not paid the back benefit that they owe. So how does one who lacks speech, lacks confidence and sleeps on the steps of the Basilica with no phone and no safe place to keep her records follow through with that process? IMPOSSIBLE! The govt. made it this hard for two reasons: to keep out the riff-raff; and to necessitate lawyers to navigate the system. The problem is, the lawyers are the riff-raff, and it keeps out the most deserving of help.

Then there are so many who say, this is not the government’s job. It is the church’s job to help the poor. Did I mention that she is sleeping on the steps of the Basilica? These are the same steps that Tony McNeal, Director of The King’s Jubilee, used to sleep on at times, when he was homeless. Back then, there was a sexton (that’s the church word for janitor) who used to secretly let some homeless sleep on the pews inside. Tony would then assist in keeping the peace, and cleaning up afterward. This all had to be done on the down low. If the priest were to find out, the sexton would have lost his job and possibly been charged with criminal trespass. Then there’s the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in North Phila. who put razor wire around their vegetable and flower garden rather than trust God for how its fruits were distributed. That’s so welcoming to their church, now that it looks like a prison. So much for relying on the church.

In fact, as government assistance has gone down in recent years, so has church’ and non-profit orgs’ assistance to the needy gone down. It seems people’s politics spills over into their religion in America, not so much the other way around.

We are not some big agency. We are basically a couple of families and a rag tag band of poor people with hearts breaking for the poor and oppressed. We love to give other people’s stuff away for them, and cook wonderful, nutritious meals for people who need them, with dignity and respect. Everything you give will help us continue to do this. Please give until it stops hurting. You’ll feel better for it!



Bitter Cold on the Streets of Philadelphia

On the last couple of Thursdays, volunteers have called me to see if we were still going out to serve, since it was Code Blue in the city. I explained on each occasion that, yes, we would be going. Many of the people we serve are not fully homeless. They live in rented rooms, but have no place to prepare food. Some of them have to choose between rent and food for the month or week. Many we serve are the hardcore of the homeless who refuse to go in to shelters due to fear for their own safety or fear of being picked up on an old bench warrant, or just not wanting to admit that they are that homeless and dependent. Then there is the cold, hard truth, that even with the expanded capacity and outreach of Code Blue, there isn’t enough space for everyone to come in from out of the cold.

It’s a sad state of affairs. There are lots of heated, vacant spaces, if we only had more compassion. Train conductors used to be allowed to look the other way and let homeless ride and sleep on the subway all night, maybe without collecting a fare. Now there are cameras and they’d lose their jobs. The trains are running. It costs nothing more. It hurts nobody. It saves lives. We all descended from poor and homeless people at some point. Now we are afraid of them, so we don’t let them ride.

Those of us serving were well bundled up with layers. We served about 50 people. I thank God we had blankets and new socks and some clothing to give away. We served hot, thick hamburger and cabbage soup, spicy tagine, spaghetti, and hot chocolate, along with our usual complement of fruits, eggs, sandwiches, etc. We gave just about everything away! Somebody even left a huge bag of foil wrapped chocolate coins on our front step along with a cash donation. It was a joy to share those as a special treat on such a cold night. The cash helped someone stay out of the cold in a room. We were freezing and so ready to get back into cars with heat, by the time we left, 45 minutes after we arrived. My hands are still cold and stiff more than 12 hours later, even though I was wearing gloves the whole time (since they got frostbit in 1969). But we got to go home to heat and basically unlimited hot water, coffee, microwaves, tea, etc. We left these people, our brothers and sisters, on the street to try to survive more sub-zero, windy, Code Blue days and nights in a city whose main concern is that they not be seen in public.

May God forgive us.



Tonight’s Meal

Love Pack
Love Pack

Just because I said on Tuesday that we did not have the resources for Thursday night’s meal, does not mean we are not serving Thursday night’s meal. It just means somethings got to happen to make this possible. Not only are we serving a meal; we are serving a feast! I am making a turkey soup with beef broth. Miss April is making a vegan side and buttery cabbage and pasta side. Holy Annunciation are bringing peanuts, eggs, oranges, bananas, and pastries. Pennridge South Middle School are bringing blankets and “Love Packs” with toiletry items and snacks & water for later. Bob is bringing bags of socks. Esther is bringing spaghetti. I’m bringing iced tea, hot sauce, salt and pepper!

I forgot to mention sandwiches! I don’t remember who all are bringing sandwiches, but we will have plenty, so people will have enough for a late night snack or breakfast or lunch tomorrow.

Thank you, people, for coming through again!

Thank God!



My Wildest Dreams

I started to put together a wish list before Christmas, but everything takes so much longer for me these days. Plus, it just didn’t feel right, you know, my mother’s voice in my head is a powerful thing. We were taught never to ask for what we wanted for Christmas or birthdays, but to be surprised and grateful for whatever we received. Of course, in my eyes, my mom was the best gift giver ever! She was so in tune with what I liked. Only one time did she buy me something I did not like. It turns out, she did not like it either, but she did it because of my joining an ultra-conservative Baptist church. It was a perfectly hideous, dark blue, sharkskin suit. She was so happy when I wanted to exchange it.

At any rate, this is for the ministry. At this point, we need everything if we are going to continue. Next month will mark the completion of our 26th year in ministry. There was a time about 18 years ago, we had a couple of men who had been involved in military logistics and procurement. They had peculiar gifts for locating and bargaining for whatever one needed and wanted to donate their skills to TKJ. I put the word out to some of the ministries in the city and told them to give us their wish lists including their wildest and craziest desires. Rev. Ora Love giggled and asked, “Really? Can I get an electric golf cart?” Within a week, we delivered an electric golf cart to her office in Richard Allen Homes for her to cart around her books for the GED and literacy classes. So now, I am going to share with you all of my wild and crazy wish list. I will further preface this by saying that, if you know how we have lived for the last 30 years, you will know that our house is a staging area for the ministry. Bags and boxes of clothes or cups or stacks of blankets may be found in our living room or kitchen at any given time. Our barn is filled with furniture waiting to go to people moving off the street. The office for the ministry is in what would be the dining room.

So here goes:

  • $1,450/month more in monthly pledges. We currently have $550/month. The smallest is $5. The largest is $120. Whatever is comfortable for you: Paypal, recurring debit from credit union or bank, check by mail. This would allow us to be secure in ministry, and expand services.
  • IMMEDIATE NEED: Four months mortgage payments & late fees to avoid foreclosure, so The King’s Jubilee doesn’t lose it’s base of operations. $6,000
  • Work crews to finish the barn; as well as some of the building materials. Our barn was to be our office and storage area for the pantry, as well as the prep kitchen for Thursday nights. We have a lot done. Then I got hospitalized with infections, then strokes and migraines and the infection ate into my spine, etc., leaving me disabled. This would help multiply the ministry both in Philadelphia and in the Bucks-Mont area.
  • Nissan Taxi. The TKJ mobile is 10-1/2 years old. It still works well. We find that we are cramped most of the time. The Nissan Taxi or that sized Nissan van with five passengers and luggage behind would be ideal for our hauling needs for the nights we serve and for helping set up new households, when people move off the street. We don’t know the price or even if Nissan is able to sell us one. 😉 I have stopped in to talk to them, because the proper time to shop for a new car is always when one can’t even afford to fill the gas tank.
  • IMMEDIATE NEED: Money to inspect the TKJ-mobile, which probably means new tires. It is out of inspection now. So we are counting on the police not noticing. The last two weeks meals were paid for partly by what little bit of credit we have left on a Visa card.
  • Drivers. I can’t drive at night, due to damage done from strokes. We have a few. At times, they are all busy with work, or ill, and I have to scramble. It helps if you are a somewhat aggressive driver and are comfortable with city driving, have an eclectic taste in music and a good sense of humor.
  • Friends. One would think this would not need explaining. Alas, it does. Jesus said, “There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” You don’t find one by just sitting next to one at church. Paul clarified in Ephesians 4 that we grow together when we go out into the world and do actual works of service together.

PedroThank you for whatever you can do to help fulfill my wildest dreams. They are all to serve the poor and homeless in Jesus’ Name, which means according to his will, with dignity and respect.

By the way, if we get the taxi, it will be painted orange with The King’s Jubilee stickers on it and no taxi sign.



Tindley Temple UMC Soup Kitchen Christmas Party on a Wing and a Prayer

I guess the headline should really read “on Chase Visa” since we put most of the socks and underwear on our personal credit card since we didn’t have enough cash to buy them in time for the party.  Money had been given but it takes several days for it to process from Paypal into TKJ’s checking account. Tuesday, Bethann & I went to our least favorite discount store and cleaned them out of men’s tube socks and severely depleted their shelf supply of tighty whities. Sorry guys, boxers are just too expensive for us and to offer the choice too complicated. Then we got a pack each of 4 different sizes of women’s panties and four packs of socks. This came to $329.

Anthony McNeal
Anthony McNeal

The people of St. Michael the Archangel Orthodox Church gathered several dozen sets of underwear and socks and some T-shirts. Early Wednesday, 6:30am, I drove down to Tindley Temple in south Philly, picking up Anthony McNeal on the way. Anthony began to help cook. I began to sort and bag the socks and underwear. A few of the students from the neighborhood school, who were there to serve the meal, sorted and bagged the women’s socks and underwear. Liz, a volunteer from the church, helped me bag more of the men’s. We got done and set up just before the people started arriving for their lunch of fried chicken and all the trimmings.  Attendance was kind of low there this year, so we had lots of underwear and socks to give out on Thursday night. I left there about 2pm. It was hard work, but great fun with the old ladies who keep that place running. The men and women really appreciated the socks and underwear. There were also just the right number of pairs of gloves that people requested. They were so happy!

Bob Lutzick
Bob Lutzick

I headed further south to Bob Lutzick’s house near 3rd & Snyder to pick up coats and blankets and a microwave which he had gathered for TKJ, He gave me a tour of his icons and we had a cup of tea. Bob is such an encouraging, generous, and humble guy. And he has a whack sense of humor, too. One would almost think he was from MN. From there, I stopped by Tindley again, to see if I could give Anthony a ride home. He was not done cleaning up. They had to be especially thorough, since the kitchen was going to be closed for a couple of weeks. He didn’t get out of there until after 5. So I continued on home.

Traffic on Broad St. and on 309 North was ridiculous. It took forever. Bethann got worried, since it got dark, and I was out driving. I don’t see so well with headlights in my eyes. They make my eyes hurt and unable to see the darker areas close to the car. I compensate for this  by wearing my funky sunglasses at night. I arrived home after 5pm, exhausted, but happy.

Thank you for your support and your prayers.



O, me of little faith!

On Wednesday, I published a blog article in which I stated that this was going to be the first time in 16 years that we would not be able to give out dollar coins in honor of St. Nicholas for St. Nicholas’ Day. A family who read that, took it to heart and did what they could to address the situation. Thursday afternoon, $100 in rolls of dollar coins were dropped by our kitchen while I was preparing soup. I was a little nervous with just $100. The last couple of years we have distributed far more than that. I figured, we would just have to see how it goes and if it meant not giving each person $3, well we would have to adjust.

Brian, Tony and I arrived in the TKJ-mobile and unloaded the iced tea, 4 dozen hard boiled eggs, 71 PB&J sandwiches from a LaSalle High School Hockey alum, 6 loaves of ham sandwiches from Serge & Alex, 22 quarts of turkey, rice, cabbage, etc. stew from me, and bread pumpkin pudding from Miss April (All the servers raved over the smell as soon as I opened the lid. They were hoping for leftovers, but no such luck) and added them to the line on the park benches. Presvy. Joanna and Russ and Sophie were already there with peanuts, oranges, bananas, goodies and a table for the iced tea. As we got ourselves organized, Sean and Zakiyya McKelven arrived with a crew  with their ministry from Philadelphia Community Church with packs of toiletries and socks & underwear. They set up at the end of our line. McGraws arrived with more sandwiches and spaghetti. We were set to start!

I asked Sean to say the blessing. He did and we were off! It was the first week of the month and the folks who were serving at the Love Park were giving away some nice stuff, so we had a much smaller crowd than usual. I waited until everyone had gone through the line once and we had put out the clothes and blankets. I then  quietly worked my way around through the remaining people and gave each person three $1 coins telling them it was in honor of St. Nicholas’ name day on Dec. 6. It was mainly our core group who stuck around, along with with a couple of alumni, old timers who showed up for the occasion. A couple of the people even got doubles. I had $5 in dollar coins in my pocket in my personal change so that covered the last two requests, with the 100th dollar from the rolls. God provided.stnick

After I had given all the coins away and gotten all the clothes and blankets out, I saw Grigory, the Russian man. He came up to me very concerned. We have been praying for his son who is in the Russian Army, fighting in the Ukraine. He tries to call him every day. He told me he hasn’t gotten any word from him in four weeks! He fears that he is dead. He told me that Putin has reneged on paying for service members’ burials. Grigory is just beside himself. Grigory is feeling blessed to be homeless in the US rather than being betrayed in Russia. It’s just hard to know where to go with that, but I can relate on quite a personal level just now.

Mark showed up with bananas about the time Gloria asked for a blessing. She embraced me weeping. I blessed her. She  said, “My name is Gloria, rev! Now I need a real blessing. I’m in need!” So she hugged me tighter, and I hugged her and I dug deeper and I prayed and I sought a proper blessing for a drug addicted, high, street walker, who wanted to turn a new page in her life. When we were done, we were both crying. She was a bit confused, but she was thankful and happy. I told her that the only way to hold onto her blessing was to continue to make right choices, even if they are the harder ones to make. Matthew 6:33 “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you as well.”  A minute or two later she was asking for tokens to get home. I told her that I didn’t have any, and I didn’t have any money to buy any because I had already given it all away earlier. She asked if I knew if anyone else who had any. I said everyone in the gathering had a few dollar coins, because I had just given them to them. Well, the first person she happened to ask was Mark, who was very willing to help, but he also recognized her condition. She wasn’t making consistent sense. Mark was going to be leaving from there to go to the airport to pick up his wife, so he offered to drive her home; a much better solution.

The team had finished packing up the TKJ-mobile, etc. We headed for home, dropping off Tony & Greg at their place on the way. Brian & I got back to my place on fumes. Then Brian continued home in his car. Another successful outing. Our mortgage still isn’t paid. I still cry 24/7 for the unjust killings in the streets, but for a few hours on a Thursday night, there was no race, no gender, no us and them, no rich and poor, no suburb and city, no saved and lost, no religions, no non-religions, just people muddling through together with love and a little respect and brutal honesty. I believe that is approaching what is meant by “in Jesus’ Name.”



More than enough blankets!

cropped-tkjprofile.jpgI tend to be pretty loosey goosey about planning for food for Thursday nights on the street. I have always felt that whatever God provided was right. Many times I would look at what was in the car and say that it must be going to be a small crowd that night. Other times, the car would be full, and I would know that the crowd would be large. Years ago, my godfather, Alex Smerkanich, of blessed memory, asked me how many sandwiches I needed on an average night. I told him I had no idea. He was very Type A, so he was not at all happy with my answer. He recruited people to sign up to make sandwiches on certain weeks of the month and wanted to know how many loaves he needed to get commitments for. I told him that I had never had to bring any home. His goal was to get me so many sandwiches that I had to bring some home. OK. Within three months, he did that, so he knew his ballpark number. We really don’t know if we have met all the need unless there are leftovers.

We regularly give out blankets. Normally we have to ration them out to whoever asked first for them. The last two weeks we have had a wonderful experience! We were able to just put all the blankets out and let everyone take as many as they wanted or needed. The week before last, I hollered to give away the last one and someone took it to give it to someone who wasn’t there. Last week I took two home. These are beautiful, plush blankets made by the Matushka Olga Sewing Group at St. Philip Orthodox Church, Souderton, PA. God bless you! We also gave away many scarves made from the remnants of the fabric. It was like a free bazaar!

What a blessing!

Oops! I forgot to check the calendar.

February was a blur. First, I was sick with the flu and bronchitis so bad that I could hardly do anything for two weeks. Bethann got it, too, not as severely, but with the bronchitis. On the 17th, we were both going to make it to church for the first time in three weeks. She sat up on the edge of the bed and told me she thinks she is having a heart attack. I got her some aspirin and water. We got dressed and I rushed her to the ER. It turns out it was very bad atrial fibrillation. She was in the hospital until Friday. They installed a pacemaker on Thursday. We did make it to church on the 24th.

On Thursday, February 28, we made soup and I got supplies and went to Giant to get the iced tea. In fact, that is why I was a little late getting to the city. I was a little disoriented, not focused on the fact that it was Thursday, for the entire day. I know that sounds funny and it is, but our life has been that disrupted by various forces and events lately. Serge and Alex and Serge and Alex (that’s not a typo, two different families) dropped off sandwiches. Brian came and we headed down to the city. When we arrived, I realized that it was the last Thursday of the month and the people of Holy Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church made the soup and brought the iced tea and cups, etc. I said to Brian, “I’m an idiot. Leave the soup and iced tea in the car. Just grab the sandwiches. I forgot which week it was.” I let Fr. Chris know what I had done and told him that if he ran out of soup, we had plenty more!

They served the line. Everyone got plenty. A little bit after we got there, Linda Notskas arrived with blankets and quilts and a few coats from St. John Chrysostom Albanian Orthodox Church. We helped her give those out. She had a car full, but she felt heart broken that she didn’t have more. She is such a sweetheart. God bless her.

Well, the crowd cleared. We packed up. We said our goodbyes to the folks from Holy Annunciation. They shared their well wishes and hugs for Bethann. We were just about to get into the TKJ-mobile, when Alex came over. (the 3rd Alex of the evening) I was so glad to see him. I had his cellphone, which he had arranged to have mailed to our house. I asked him if he wanted soup. He was surprised we had any left, so I told him the sorry tale of my forgetfulness. One thing led to another. We had several more stragglers. It turns out there had been a lecture at the Free Library about the persistence of poverty in America that a number of the guys attended. They missed our normal serving line. We ended up giving away well more than half of the soup and all of the iced tea. The guys were very appreciative. They had made a difficult choice to go to this lecture and discussion, but had chosen long term edification and hope for progress over a hot meal. God used my absentmindedness to be the ram in the bush to provide for them and bless them for their wisdom.

“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.”

– 1 Corinthians 1:27

The Donate Button is on the Right

I did the math, and over the last 23 years, The King’s Jubilee has served or provided about half a million meals to homeless people or to needy children or seniors on fixed incomes. We have distributed tons of clothing and blankets to families in need. We have moved dozens of houses full of furniture from those who needed to get rid of it to those who needed it but could not afford it. We have redistributed dozens of used computers to people who needed them to learn basic skills or school children in the inner city. We have purchased vehicles for other ministries who serve in Jesus’ Name, even once acquiring an electric golf cart to help a tutor get around Richard Allen Homes project with all her books and teaching tools.

We have done all this and more on a frayed shoestring, with no building other than my home and no salaried staff. I say all this to say we are tired and we need your help to do greater things in the next generation. Please dig deep and give generously.

Running On Empty

We are now serving two or three Tuesday evenings each month, in addition to every Thursday evening. This means we need to buy more cups, more iced tea, more fuel for the TKJ-mobile, more hot sauce, etc. We are also helping several guys who have moved off of the street gather things that they need with some furniture, dishes, etc.,  and Operation: Clean Start. Giving is down. I think people are operating under the false assumption that this is a budget supported ministry of St. Philip’s. It is not. We are supported only through designated offerings or direct donations. Normally it is subsidized by “Come and See” Icons, Books & Art. Since I was sick much of last year, the business has suffered, and is operating at a loss. Even so, we expanded the ministry. Why?

  • It is needed now more than ever.
  • Volunteers came forward to make soup every other Tuesday.
  • This ministry is the one thing in my life that I am sure I am supposed to be doing.

Lately, with health issues and various conflicts, and having just enough money to get home on fumes only because I haven’t paid the mortgage yet, some days I have been so discouraged that I felt like quitting even this. Then I had a night like I did on Thursday. We had enough blankets and Ugly Quilts for everyone who wanted them. Morris discussed Isaiah 5:8 with me. Tom was sober. Anthony had a good report from his computer class at Phila. Community College. There a were lot of “thank you”s and “praise God”s.

Those of you who support this ministry with your prayers, your sandwiches and your money should have a tear of joy in your eye about now. Thank you! Praise God for you. We need more like you.

Please use the “Donate” button to make a donation via Paypal now, while you are thinking about it.