Hunting Park's 'Unity Day' offers food, hugs, health info
People who live in poor and dangerous neighborhoods get used to hiding. But every once in a while, they come out in the sunshine to hug one another and say hello.
People who live in poor and dangerous neighborhoods get used to hiding.
But every once in a while, they come out in the sunshine to hug one another and say hello.
That's what Saturday's Seasonal Unity Day, an outdoor holiday party and food giveaway in Hunting Park, was all about.
"Introduce yourself," said Asteria Vives, who runs the group sponsoring the event, Home Quarters & Friends, a community organization that makes life a little easier in the minority Philadelphia neighborhoods in the Hunting Park, Kensington, and North Philadelphia neighborhoods.
"When you're passing someone, smile. They won't bite. And if they do, come tell me."
It looked like fall but felt like spring as yellowed leaves fell on children in T-shirts. Their faces were being painted by police officers who clearly relished the chance to create butterflies on sweet, grinning canvases.
While local performers sang and danced on a wide stage, workers from health agencies offered help and advice at tables lining a park walkway.
"People here deal with drug violence, domestic violence, hunger, homelessness, children with developmental delays," said Stephanie Bey, program analyst in the Early Intervention Program for the city's Department of Behavioral Health & Intellectual disAbility Services.
"We try to help people find services to help their lives."
Maybe in other parts of the region, people are attending weekend festivals featuring booths that sell found-art sculpture or artisan breads.
But in these precincts, what gets dispensed are brochures on HIV, free diapers, and information on safe day-care centers.
"I love this neighborhood," said Police Officer Cinnamon Smith, 43, of the often-embattled 25th Police District. She was taking a break from face-painting. "The poverty is challenging, and there are a lot of good people trapped into living here."
What hurts most, she said, is having to lock up 16-year-old drug dealers she met as 6-year-olds in community events like this one.
"It breaks my heart to do that," she said. "And the boys I arrest know me, and are always respectful.
"I wish more people could see that we, the cops and the people, are all out here every day, trying."
As the afternoon went on, a young man demonstrated kung fu moves, parents were able to pick out donated clothes, and a little boy with a mustache drawn onto his face danced with his family to Latino music.
"It's important for people to come out like this," said Crystal Hardman, 53, of Hunting Park, who had brought her 9-year-old cousin, Jasir. "It's a blessing."
And just as the day's gentle rhythm seemed to be taking hold of everyone, Vives had to climb the stage to announce that two cars belonging to festivalgoers had been broken into.
Reality had intruded once again, a hard truth in a hard place.