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Funding grassroots start-ups

During the holiday season, our contributors are highlighting the miraculous work done by some local nonprofits and charities.

During the holiday season, our contributors are highlighting the miraculous work done by some local nonprofits and charities.

AFRIEND recently visited Philadelphia.

He was driving from western Pennsylvania, and there was a huge accident on the turnpike. He took a back way into the city, and wound up driving right through some of the worst pockets of poverty in Philadelphia.

It was a side of the city he'd never seen, though he'd visited half a dozen times. He was taken aback at the abandoned houses, streets in disrepair and vacant storefronts. He'd only been in Center City and adjacent areas, so the poverty was invisible.

Every year at this time, Philadelphians are asked to give to organizations that provide a warm coat or hot meal to a family in need. These are certainly worthy, but I want to live in a city where homeless shelters are obsolete. If you make a donation to Bread and Roses Community Fund, you'll be supporting work to end poverty in Philadelphia.

According to the U.S. Census, 22.3 percent of Philadelphians live below the poverty line. In real numbers, that means more than 300,000 people live in households making $20,000 a year - or even much less. In some areas, the level of poverty is as high as 40 percent. These were the neighborhoods that my friend drove through.

Bread and Roses provides funding for grassroots organizations fighting for positive change in our city. They exclusively fund organizations working to change social policy in some tangible way. The grantees are on the front line of ending poverty in Philadelphia.

Education can be the pathway for many out of poverty. Bread and Roses provides funding for the Philadelphia Student Union, Youth United for Change and several other groups battling for educational equality and to ensure that every Philadelphian has access to a quality education.

The vast majority of those caught up in Philadelphia's criminal-justice system are poor. Bread and Roses Community Fund provides support to a group of former-inmates-turned-activists called X-Offenders for Community Empowerment (XCE). XCE members have fought for gun control and economic opportunity for former inmates. Prison and poverty are a ruthless cycle. XCE allows ex-offenders to take a positive leadership role in their community.

Gentrification often has a negative affect on people trapped in poverty. The Community Leadership Institute, founded by the late community organizer Rosemary Cubas, helps residents fight for responsible practices that allow everyone to benefit from economic development.

Bread and Roses is also special because it is often one of the first foundations to fund emerging organizations. It provides critical early money to help grassroots movements find their footing.

The solution for many of the problems facing Philadelphia is ending poverty. I believe that will attract residents far better than tax cuts or marketing slogans. Bread and Roses will continue to provide funding for organizations fighting for change. Some day, we can make holiday appeals for soup kitchens as outdated as asking for a videotape of the latest movie.

Bread and Roses, at 1500 Walnut St. Suite 1305, Philadelphia, PA 19102, can be reached at 215-731-1107 or online at *

Ben Waxman is a frequent contributor. E-mail him at