A snow day uncovers the other side of Philly

Posted: December 13, 2013

TUESDAY, as the city was coated in enough snow to cancel schools and delay anything on wheels, I noticed an urgent tweet from MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance), a non-profit that feeds critically ill people.

"Did you get a #SnowDay? Help us out in the #MANNA kitchen this morning!"

I thought: Good freakin' luck with that. Because don't they know Philly's too tough? And no, I'm not talking about the ancient, if legendary, example of Philly fans booing Santa in 1968. We've outdone ourselves since then.

There was the Lions fan who says he was beaten to a pulp by Eagles fans after Sunday's home game. There was the melee that broke out last week on live television during a tree-lighting ceremony in LOVE Park. And there was the stun-gun fight on Black Friday between two women at Franklin Mills mall that was caught on video. The video not only went viral, but caught the attention of comedian Jon Stewart.

"That's just Philly, though, man," Stewart joked on "The Daily Show."

It was hard to argue with that. Except that was before I talked with Brennan Mault and his girlfriend, Becky Custer. Mault, a teacher at Samuel Fels High School, envisioned a lazy day when the storm closed Philadelphia schools. Sleep in, lounge around, watch a little TV. All was going according to plan as he and Custer watched the memorial for Nelson Mandela. But then Custer, who was scrolling through her Twitter feed as they watched television, saw the tweet from MANNA. "They're right around the corner," she said.

And just like that, those lazy-day plans melted away faster than a snowflake hitting a windshield. Because, as Mault said, what dope could watch a tribute to selfless Mandela and not give up a few hours of a snow day to help those in need? Also, and perhaps more motivating, theirs is a relatively new relationship and Mault, who is divorced, doesn't want to repeat his mistakes. So yes, sweetheart, that sounds like a fantastic idea.

But it wasn't just Mault and his girlfriend who answered MANNA's call. When I stopped by the Ranstead Street offices, 76-year-old Lee Junker was just wrapping up a shift in the kitchen. Junker was honest - she ever so briefly looked out the window that morning and considered staying in. Instead, she grabbed the ski poles her husband of 50 years left for her by the front door and headed out.

And out on the road there were friends Judy Maile and Marijo Kratowicz, delivering a week's worth of meals to clients battling illnesses. Usually the friends can be found in the kitchen, chopping 200 pounds of onions and trying to figure out how to get the smell out of their hair. But when they learned that MANNA was low on volunteers, they piled into their car with a map and a prayer. "It was a little hairy, but not bad," Maile said. "When you see people in such tough situations, it reminds you of how fortunate most of us are. A few hours in the snow is really the least we could do."

"I never doubted they'd come through," MANNA development director Lydia Cipriani said of the inclement-weather volunteers. (Although, MANNA could always use more help, so consider giving a few hours of your time.)

Before I left, I took a photo of some of the volunteers, including adorable Junker posing with her ski poles. There's no chance those photos are going viral. Few will ever hear about these more discreet acts of kindness. Definitely not funnyman Stewart.

But this is Philly too, man.


Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas

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