This past Saturday, volunteers gathered at the Shamrock Food Distributors warehouse in Frankford to pack cars, minivans and trucks with heavy cardboard boxes, each one filled to the top with all the fixings for a Christmas dinner—turkey or ham, potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, and more—and spread out across the city and, in many cases, well beyond, to deliver the food to needy families.
The brainchild of the Hibernians’ Bob Gessler, this year’s project was led by Jeanne Hermley of Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 87, with assistance from Becky Puchalski, LAOH Philadelphia County president; Ed Dougherty, AOH Philadelphia County president; Joe Fox, past county president; Tom Dooley, Operating Engineers Local 542; all in partnership with Ed Lubienski of Shamrock Foods in Frankford, which acquires the food and stockpiles it all, including turkeys and hams.
More than 20 volunteers helped out this year, according to Hermley, most of them drivers, but several who helped load up the vehicles and perform other essential tasks.
This year, in terms of the number of volunteers, there was an embarrassment of riches. Last year, Hermley says, they could have used a few more.
It was also tough going last year. This year, there was a little rain. On the other hand, she says, “There was nothing to shovel this year. Last year it snowed, and we had to shovel—and there was rain on top of the snow.”
Rain, sleet or snow, Hermley says, the entire project is, and always has been, “a well-oiled machine, and Shamrock Foods is always amazing.”
None of it would happen, she adds, without the generosity of Ancient Order of Hibernians or Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians divisions, and many other benefactors.
For example, the Operating Engineers donated $500 and supplied a number of volunteers, including packers and drivers.
“We donate to the Hibernian Hunger Project, and we have members who come down and take loads of turkeys out and individually deliver them,” says Dooley, Operating Engineers Local 542 Business Representative. “We’ve been doing it for years. I’ve been involved longer than that.”
The Operating Engineers go far and wide to share those big boxes of Christmas spirit. “We had a first-year apprentice, Alexa Hughes, who did Marcus Hook. She was able to take 20 back there where they gave them out at the firehouse. That was the first time we stretched out that far. And Dan Sullivan and his nephew Christian McEwan, they handled West Philly and South Philly.”
The Hibernian Hunger Project is one of many charitable endeavors the union is involved in. But this one is special. “This we do because it’s a mission of the Hibernians,” says Dooley. “It’s the right kind of thing to do at the right time of year.”