When the Black Lives Matter and police brutality protests recently swept through Philly, Annabel Wulfhart was very much involved.
Wulfhart, a social worker, and her friend Sarah Ellis, an early intervention teacher, created Papermill Food and Essentials Distribution Hub, a mutual aid providing families with essential food and hygiene items.
It’s no coincidence it operates out of 2825 Ormes St. in Kensington, a River Wards neighborhood that has been ravaged by the opioid epidemic and most recently the looting that proceeded from the protests.
“We started this because we were inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement to take some responsibility for those who are not getting adequately cared for by our government,” Wulfhart said. “Kensington is an already underserved neighborhood, caught right in the middle of the opioid epidemic, has had their misfortune compounded by COVID-19, rampant
unemployment and the recent looting that took place in their neighborhood after the protests against police violence. As a result of these compounded factors, items such as groceries, diapers, toilet paper and masks are hard to access.”
Wulfhart was determined the community have access to those items.
“We heard about an organization called Bunny Hop Philadelphia operating out of West
Philly. Started by two chefs, Jena Harris and Kate Briggs, they have been handing out boxes of food and groceries to their neighbors for the past 18 weeks,” Wulfhart said. “After consulting with them, we felt we could take on the responsibility for being a food hub in another part of the city.”
They were also introduced to Sunday Suppers, which are community dinners for families at Mariana Bracetti Academy that are now delivered due to COVID.
“We’ve all banded together and now support each others’ operations with resource information and community support,” Wulfhart said.
The duo then created an initial list from referrals of 21 families who could use a helping hand, collected donations, worked with Philly businesses, and began distributing boxes on June 14.
As of July 29, Papermill Food Hub had distributed more than 220 boxes and was serving 42 families weekly.
Each box cost about $25 to make.
“Boxes with just food and household items are significantly cheaper than the ones with diapers
so that’s just an average,” Wulfhart said. “I am now a bargain finding master and go to four different stores to pick up items based on the best prices!”
An example of a box given to a household of five includes:
1 dozen eggs
1 quart of rice
1 quart of pasta
1 bag of beans
1 pasta sauce
2 cans of tuna fish
3 noodle packets
2 baby squeeze packs
2 apple sauce
1 kids protein drink
1 loaf of bread and rolls from Liberty Kitchen
1 bottle of ketchup
Boxes previously included a Common Market Produce box, “but that program stopped being funded by the USDA,” and, “We are currently working on sourcing more produce,” Wulfhart said.
The Papermill Food Hub operates almost solely on monetary donations, with some help in between, including donated refrigerator space from Cake of Chestnut Hill and bread from Liberty Kitchen.
Wulfhart runs the organization by herself now, with the help of a couple of volunteers, and has no plans of stopping anytime soon.
“We are also hoping to set up some bins at local stores so people can donate food and household items. Two stores have agreed so far,” she said. “Right now I buy almost everything with donated money, but we are hoping to pivot to finding food donations so we can focus the money on diapers and wipes, which cost so much.”
Aside from providing families with essential items, Wulfhart believes in being a good neighbor.
“We also believe that we need to serve the neighborhood and block. We’re located just around the corner from A and Cambria, [where] I’m sure you know the trash and needles that pile up,” she said. “The block is a ‘play street’ designated by the city, and the family down the block hands out the Philly school lunches, so it would be an ideal place for children to actually play.”
Once a week, Wulfhart and volunteers walk up and down the block picking up trash and syringes.
The sights are appalling.
“Just yesterday I picked up 12 used needles before 11 a.m.,” Wulfhart said. “It’s insane to me that the city is paying so little attention to this neighborhood that’s in crisis and filled with Philadelphia families.”
A community garden is also in the works at Papermill Food Hub.
Wulfhart previously worked as a waitress alongside Mandi Rush, who now works on a farm and is providing advice on planting beds.
Another volunteer who is a Kensington native serves as a translator for the Spanish-speaking families.
“There are also a number of children who live on the block. In order to help our neighbors and to hopefully start growing our own vegetables for the hub, we’re hoping we can start inviting the
neighborhood children to play in our garden,” Wulfhart said. “I am a social worker who knows many other social workers who would feel comfortable supervising their play.”
With families to feed, gardens to grow and trash to tackle, the possibilities are endless for Papermill.
“I want to keep this going forever and I think we can. People have been unbelievably generous and it’s been so amazing to get to do this work,” Wulfhart said.
For more details, visit The Papermill Food and Essentials Distribution Hub on Facebook, follow @papermillfoodhub on Instagram or contact Annabel at 215-380-5659 or PaperMillFoodHub@gmail.com. Donations can be made via Venmo to @Annabel_Wulfhart or via GoFundMe at gf.me/u/yd8z3q.