Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is hoping that the folks who’ll be wearing the green for the next couple of weeks will be willing to part with the green too—and we’re not talking soda tax here.
Through a unique partnership between the Office of the City Representative and the nonprofit Citizen Diplomacy International (CDI), the mayor is asking the Irish community—and everyone else who feels Irish on St. Patrick’s Day—to donate to a special fund for two of the region’s largest and best known nonprofits established to end hunger and homelessness. It will run through the end of March, which Kenney will be proclaiming Irish Heritage Month at city hall ceremonies on Thursday, March 9.
You’ll be hearing more about the “Wear Green, Give Green” initiative during this Sunday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade which is being broadcast for the first time on Fox29 TV and, if you stop in to a pub for a pint along the parade route, you can read about it on your coaster, made and donated by Condrake, a Philadelphia printing firm.
Partnering with the Mayor’s office and CDI are Philabundance, the 32-year-old food rescue organization that feeds more than 90,000 hungry people a week, and Project HOME, the Camden-based anti-homelessness program headed by the dynamic Sister Mary Scullion, who in 2009 was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.
Kenney, who has Irish roots, has made poverty and homelessness a focus of his administration. Philadelphia has one of the highest poverty rates and lowest household medium incomes among all major cities. It’s considered the poorest big city in America.
“The Irish are always giving back,” says city representative Sheila Hess. “That’s the big heart we always hear about. Mayor Kenney has that too.”
While the idea for the fundraising event came from the mayor, the logistics were hatched on the 12th floor of 1515 Arch Street by Hess and former Irish Immigration Center Executive Director Siobhan Lyons who now heads CDI, which is conveniently located on the same floor. Their offices are just a few footfalls apart.
The two women started their new jobs at about the same time and Lyons offered the services of her nonprofit, which runs the sister city program and other exchanges with people from other countries, to allow funds to be centrally collected and dispersed equally to the two organizations. CDI’s involvement also allows all donations to be tax deductible.
Hess credits the Dublin-born Lyons with taking a last-minute idea and making it all seem possible. “She reached out to every Irish organization she could think of—ones I didn’t even know existed,” said Hess, laughing. “They all responded to Siobhan with enthusiasm.”
While the personal touch helped, Lyons said that hunger and homelessness are issues that resonate with the Irish who historically have known both. About 1 million Irish people died during what they call an gorta mor—the great hunger—in the mid-1800s and another million were forced to leave their homes. Many came to America where, she points out, “we have become a force for social justice.”
They’re likely to be moved by the poem on the coasters, which are being distributed to Irish pubs on and around the parade route. Written by Peter Quinn, it’s is engraved on The Irish Memorial at Front and Chestnut Streets. It reads, in part, “We have it in our power/not only to remember/ what took place but to relive it. . ./To find in the hungry and lost,/not a different race. . ./but the faces of our ancestors. . ./An image of ourselves.”
“It was Sister Mary’s idea to including the poem. It’s a powerful message about poverty and hunger and it’s why we’re doing what we’re doing,” said Hess. “This is really special to Mayor Kenney.”
To donate, click here or go to www.cdiphila.org/givegreen. There’s no such thing as a “small donation,” said Lyons. “A dollar donation can feed two people and $25 can provide permanent housing for one day,” she pointed out. “Every donation counts.”