People’s Kitchen in South Philadelphia offers food and community care

People’s Kitchen in South Philadelphia offers food and community care

People’s Kitchen in South Philadelphia offers food and community care

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Chef Aziza Young, El Compadre Restaurant, and 215 People’s Alliance launched The People’s Kitchen during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four years later, it’s still going strong, fulfilling its mission of mutual aid and food sovereignty at a time when nearly 250,000 Philadelphians are struggling with food insecurity. The kitchen, a collaborative project of chefs, students and volunteers, operates out of its Italian Market location and fights hunger one meal at a time.

April McGreger, a chef, conservation expert, executive board member and volunteer, said the goal of the collaboration goes beyond fighting hunger and seeks to imagine a better way for everyone to share resources.

“The idea of ​​mutual aid is not just to put ourselves in a place where we can take care of people, it’s to give everyone the opportunity to contribute and participate in creating something better, … to be there for each other and be each other’s safety net,” he said.

April McGreger
April McGreger uses her expertise in preserving and fermentation to turn surplus produce into tasty, long-lasting jams and pickles. (Emily Neil/WHYY)

Between The People’s Kitchen and food rescue organizations Punks with Lunch and Food Not Bombs, about 500 hot meals are prepared per week at the Ninth Street kitchen. Meals are distributed directly on-site or in the surrounding area. Chefs and volunteers make special efforts to prepare meals that meet the cultural and dietary preferences of community members.

Rebecca Ng, a volunteer at The People’s Kitchen who works as a translator for Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking community members, said many people appreciate the variety of meals on offer.

“It’s really cool, you know, they do different styles,” Ng said, noting that in the 30 years she’s lived in South Philadelphia, she’s seen the neighborhood become increasingly diverse — a reality McGreger said volunteers and chefs strive to reflect in the dishes they serve.

April McGreger and Rebecca Ng
April McGreger (left), executive board member of The People’s Kitchen, speaks with volunteer Rebecca Ng (right), outside the organization’s store at the Italian Market. (Emily Neil/WHYY)

Depending on the day, community members can come directly to the kitchen door at 1149 S. 9th Street for a hot meal at 3 p.m. There is also a community refrigerator outside that is stocked with food.

McGreger said the core principles of mutual aid are tied to his family roots in a small subsistence farming community in rural Mississippi.

“For me, food has always been about community, about bringing people together, about caring for people,” she said. “And that was something that I was taught as a very important cultural value. And I think that’s what a lot of us involved in The People’s Kitchen are really interested in… pushing back against this idea of ​​late capitalism where the winner takes all and ‘we don’t care if you’re dying in the streets.’”

McGreger began volunteering in the kitchen in 2020. Her experience with preserving and fermentation plays a particularly important role: the kitchen receives food donations from Shoprite and other companies, and chefs often have to get creative to use ingredients they have on hand or preserve them for long-term use.

Another important aspect of the collaborative’s food sovereignty work is the community garden in Southwest Philadelphia, where volunteers tend 30 plots at 62nd and Reinhardt streets. The produce goes first to community members, but sometimes — especially in the summer, when there’s a glut of certain fruits and vegetables — it’s sent to the South Philly kitchen, where McGreger uses her expertise in preserving and fermentation to turn the surplus into long-lasting, flavorful additions to meals.