ORCA president Don Gould points to lucking out in Kensington for motivation to keep community safe and clean
By Melissa Komar
Don Gould pulls his truck under the Emerald Street underpass between Lehigh Avenue and Somerset Street, his daily pitstop since the recent cleanup of Philadelphia’s nearby infamous drug haven, “El Campamento.”
Dozens of addicts took up residence under the stretch in ORCA territory, and after seeing the conditions up close, Gould decided to act.
Each day, he makes brown-bagged meals, with bottles of water and leftovers from his corner store and deli, Memphis Market & Grill.
“I don’t know what the answer is to the drug crisis, but I think the first step is getting to know these people,” he said. “You can throw all the money and treatment you want at these people, but if they’re not ready, it won’t help.”
Gould makes small talk with the individuals crouched against the walls as he passes out the bags.
He presented the idea to fellow residents, which drew some criticisms such as he would be encouraging the addicts to stay, but Gould isn’t one to back down from his beliefs.
“No human being should be hungry or have to dig out of a trash can to eat in the United State,” he said. “Life has to be pretty tough to live under a tunnel on a mattress. I don’t know what kind of hold that drug has on you, but it’s pretty bad. And, I’m in no position to judge. I don’t know how you got there, but if I can feed you, I will. I will never give 10 cents to a homeless person, but I will feed them.”
It’s a combination of his no-bull attitude and humility that have allowed him to help lead the transformation of the surrounding area as president of the Olde Richmond Civic Association over the past few years.
“I was a poor kid from Kensington who was given a chance,” he said. “I graduated from North Catholic in 1978 and became a father in May 1979 and I was determined not to raise my kids that way I was raised.”
It’s safe to say Gould, and his wife who he met in elementary school, succeeded in this goal: his daughter is a scientist, his middle son is a computer programmer and his youngest child is a television producer.
“They don’t need me anymore, so it’s time to give back,” he said. “Everything I do, I do to make my kids proud.”
Growing up in Kensington in the Ascension Parish, Gould worked in a gift shop on Front Street and the owner eventually sold him the business.
When the neighborhood began to change, Gould opened another store at Ann and Ontario streets when he was 24. He kept the business for 16 years until the neighborhood took a turn for the worse and he opened another deli in Juniata, and just like the stores before it, the dynamics of the neighborhood changed.
After considering hanging up his deli hat, Gould bough Memphis Market from his brother-in-law 16 years ago and has lived in the community ever since.
Gould is reluctant to talk about himself and even more subdued when taking any credit for impacting the neighborhood.
“I only graduated high school, but you can get ahead being nice. You can learn everything you can, but be nice,” Gould said. “I’m a Kenzo, so I don’t have too many friends. I have a big wall and I don’t let too many people in.”
Gould was one of the founding members of Friends of Cione, a group of volunteers looking “to breath some life back into the playground.”
Aside from organizing large-scale fundraisers for the playground, Gould worked with Councilman Squilla to secure more than $300,000 in funds to install a completely new playground.
For the past three years, Gould has served as president of ORCA. Because of by-laws — a president can serve no more than two, 2-year terms — , he will vacate the position this June.
“I’m not going to abandon my community, but I won’t be driving the bus,” he said.
It will definitely be an adjustment.
“Sometimes, my wife thinks I’m nuts. Some weeks I put more work into the community than the store,” he said.
Regardless of who the new leader of ORCA will be, much has been accomplished during Gould’s tenure until now.
Cione Playground was completely transformed, a town watch and the UnTag ORCA anti-graffiti initiative were created, more than 65 blocks now have security cameras linked to ORCA’s Safe Streets program, Saturday morning cleanups became a regular event and an ORCA tunnels transformation project, pending a grant from the Multimodal Transportation Fund, is in the works.
ORCA received this year’s Citizens Crime Commission Parx’s Award for its efforts in creating a better community in this year alone.
Even though other ORCA members may have created the initiatives, Gould doesn’t stand idly by.
On any given day, you’ll spot him dropping flyers at houses for zoning meetings or security systems, meeting with politicians, cleaning up trash under the tunnels or painting tires.
“It’s what everybody wants in a community,” he said. “Safe and clean. It’s that simple.”
Aside from ORCA, Gould is genuinely invested in the neighborhood, from passing out lunches under the underpass to donating time and money to the Kensington Christmas initiative, created by a handful of Kensington natives to help less fortunate families during the holidays.
And while his involvement is beyond measurable, Gould is most proud of Cione’s facelift, despite experiencing some roadblocks including residents who weren’t happy that dogs were shut out of the field.
“It’s a playground for kids and teenagers and it’s an athletic field and I’m really glad I had something to do with bringing this playground back to life,” he said.
And while, Gould is humble in speaking about what ORCA has accomplished, he admits “it’s really cool that this neighborhood respects me.”
Giving back is the bottom line for Gould.
“Poor kid lucks out. That’s really what my story is,” he said. “I made a good life. I could buy the fanciest house, but I love Olde Richmond. This is home. And now it’s time to give back.”
Editor’s note: This part in the “Movers and “Shakers” series originally appeared in print in September 2017.