YOU HEAR statistics about how one in three local children are impoverished but it doesn't always register until you stare into the eyes of someone who's hungry and doesn't know where the next meal is coming from.
Take Philadelphia-based commodities trader Tyrone L. Gilliams who knew times were hard but didn't really comprehend how badly the city's been damaged by the latest economic downturn until about a week before Thanksgiving. He had partnered with Sen. Anthony H. Williams to give away turkeys to local residents and was profoundly moved by the long line of people who showed up to claim one.
"I saw people who looked like me. It wasn't your typical homeless-looking person. I even saw a fraternity brother. Well, he had a fraternity hat on," recalled Gilliams, who is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi and had purchased 1,000 turkeys for distribution. "I said, 'something needs to happen.' To have this many people lined up wating for a turkey, there is a dire need. I said I have to do more.
"It really got to me in a way that inspired me to say, 'Listen, something has to be done,' " added Gilliams, who also assisted with Mayor Nutter's turkey giveaway.
And that something could well turn out to be the most star-studded weekend that Philly has seen in a long while. Gilliam, who developed a friendship with Sean "Puffy" Combs during his undergraduate days at the University of Pennsylvania, plans to use his connections to bring the likes of hip- hop music impressario Jermaine Dupri, actor Boris Kodjoe, cast members of the "Real Housewives of Atlanta" and Combs himself to the Ritz-Carlton for a black-tie fundraiser this Saturday night.
Gilliams, who is also an ordained minister, is calling his efforts the Joy to the World Fest (joytotheworldfest.org). The weekend starts today with a bowling party at North Bowl in Northern Liberties, followed by an album-release party for Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx at The Vault, 470 N. 2nd St., on Friday. That's just the wind-up for the black-tie gala at the Ritz Carlton Saturday. When I caught up with Gilliam yesterday, he was doing a sight visit there, inspecting the ballroom where the fundraiser will take place.
Gilliams, who grew up in the area and graduated from Camden High School, didn't have much time to talk nor was he interested in answering a lot of questions about himself. The emphasis, he told me more than once, really should be on the event - not him. In a follow-up conversation late yesterday, Gilliams pointed out the dire situation many Philadelphians are in because of the economic downturn, the worst since the Great Depression. The number of residents on food stamps has ballooned from 329,903 in 2007 to 416,587, as of June, according to Philabundance.
"I don't want people to lose sight of the reason for this season and why I'm doing what I'm doing," he insisted.
To his credit, Gilliams is personally bankrolling the fundraising weekend which includes a whole slew of activities and will conclude with a concert by Regina Belle, among others, on Sunday at Yesha Ministries, 2301 Snyder Ave.
Several castmembers from the Bravo hit, "Real Housewives of Atlanta" are scheduled to walk the red carpet before the gala and also be guests at the event. Co-star Kim Zolciak told me she's arriving Saturday and will attend with fellow co-stars Sheree Whitfield and, reportedly, NeNe Leakes.
"The organization contacted me directly and asked me and Sheree as well. Sheree had called me and said, 'I think this will be really great," Zolciak said. "Sheree and I are going to be at the event on Saturday night and just be a part of everything and get the word out. I'm super excited."
And for the star-crazed, there stands to be more to be excited about than Philly has seen for awhile.