PCK Graduate Finds Support in Food, Farming and Faith
On a sunny day in September, Philabundance Community Kitchen (PCK) Graduate Kevin is standing between two long rows of plant beds created from converted pallets and painted in vibrant hues of yellow, green and red. Sunflowers, vines of veggies and a full-size fig tree stretch over him, casting scattered havens of shade. In the distance, Hahnemann Hospital and the Drexel Medicine building peek out between climbing columns of squash blossoms.
Kevin is on the urban farm he helped build while living at Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, a Philabundance Member Agency and community organization that supports the physical and spiritual needs of homeless individuals in Philadelphia. As he admires his handiwork, he wonders out loud why the apple trees still aren’t blooming and makes a mental note to ask Meei Ling Ng, the artist and urban gardener who started the farm with support from neighboring organization Asian Arts Initiative.
Today is Kevin’s day off from work at Rosemont Presbyterian Village where he is a line cook. He has a few hours to spend before he visits his wife and grandchildren, so he sits down at a bistro table on the edge of the farm and waits.
It’s hard to believe only one year ago he was without a job and a home.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Kevin grew up cooking for his family. When his father passed away from a heart attack, he felt even more pressure to support his mom and five older siblings. As life stressors increased, so did his drinking. He dropped out of high school to work full-time and began what would become a 25-year career in the manufacturing industry. In 2015, at 50-years-old, Kevin was let go from his job for health-related absences. Shortly thereafter, he was evicted from his home after running out of savings to pay for rent.
“I knew I would probably have to sleep on the streets,” says Kevin. “I got up and started walking, and it just so happened I saw a police officer and he directed me to Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission.”
It was at Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission where Kevin found both shelter and faith. It’s also where he was introduced to PCK, a culinary arts training program for low-income adults. At first he thought he would “just learn about food” in the program and move on, but he quickly realized PCK also offered concrete life skills that would help him get back on his feet.
“I’ll never forget what Chef Hugo told us on my first day,” reflects Kevin. “He said, ‘You’ll get out of this what you put into it. Anyone can learn how to cook, even an animal. It’s how to deal with the life stuff that will take you far.’”
As he cooked his way through PCK, Kevin also worked with a core group of men at the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission to install their new urban farm. “We learned farming basics and got to actually do things with our hands,” says Kevin. “That’s what really got us going and excited.”
With collaborative and collective support from both organizations, Kevin has renewed his passion for food, earned his ServSafe Certificate and completed his GED; he’s also beginning to restore relationships with his family.
Back on the farm, Kevin points out his signature on the inaugural plaque that hangs next to a trellised cantaloupe plant. In the next few months, he plans to move out of Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission and into his own apartment. He reflects:
“Being homeless is just something you have to deal with and move on from. Philabundance and Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission helped me do that. They changed my life. If it hadn’t been for them, I’d be wandering around lost. I wouldn’t be where I am today.”