By the time you have read this column, more than 500 families, including 5,000 persons, at Richard Allen Homes will have received baskets of food that were distributed last night by volunteers.
A businessman who has helped organize the effort each year and who wishes to remain anonymous, told me that he was overwhelmed by the generosity of people this year. He said that it is rare when someone turned him down after he explained the needs of the tenants.
He said that he didn't solicit from some businesses, knowing that they had a bad year. But when he didn't call on them, they called him, admonishing him for not making his pitch for help this year. Some of them gave less than they did in previous years, but they gave willingly.
What impresses me about the friends of Richard Allen Homes is that they are not a one-day-a-year operation. Theirs is a year-round program. The money that is donated doesn't just purchase food for Thanksgiving. The group has also established a scholarship program on three levels:
* They give money to dependent heads of households in the project who want to learn a skill or a profession and get off welfare.
* They give money to those young people who live in the project and intend to go to college.
* They reward primary school children who have good grades and attendance in school.
Richard Allen Homes is named after one of the city's most famous African American citizens. It is an all-black public housing project. For the last two decades it has been mismanaged by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. It has been plagued by poverty, drug addiction and crime.
The friends of Richard Allen Homes make a small effort when you consider the overall problems of the inner-city poor. Nevertheless, theirs is an
innovative approach that involves the private sector in public housing.
Prior to the interest of the friends group and the tenants organizing, the project's problems had been ignored by those outside its boundaries.
The new management team of the Philadelphia Housing Authority should take a look at what the friends and the tenants are doing and expand on it to other housing projects.
I am inspired particularly because the friends group is multiracial and includes people of all income groups.
The spirit and values that motivate people to help the Friends of the Residents of Richard Allen Homes captures the profound meaning of Thanksgiving to me. People are giving sincere thanks for their blessings while doing something to make other people thankful for the day.