On a chilly Saturday morning, a small fleet of cars, minivans and trucks pulled up in front of Shamrock Food Distributors on Fraley Street near the Frankford Armory. Bob Gessler, founder of Philadelphia’s Hibernian Hunger Project, pulled up, and within minutes the huge loading dock doors rolled open. Volunteers wearing jackets and shirts from many local Ancient Order of Hibernian divisions poured from the vehicles, and within a short time a very smooth-running assembly line spontaneously took shape.
Boxes were loaded into truck beds and wedged into car trunks. Gessler handed envelopes neatly filled with addresses and street maps to drivers, and soon all those vehicles were headed out of the neighborhood in all directions.
This rarest of things—an Irish project run with Prussian efficiency—was the Hibernian Hunger Project’s first Christmas food basket operation. The local Hunger Project committee hatched the idea maybe three weeks before, not knowing how it might go or how many needy families would be provided with frozen turkeys with all the trimmings for their Christmas dinner.
In the end, the local committee raised funds for 70 boxes loaded with food, and easily found needy families to receive them.
“We had a committee meeting to propose the idea, and we all said, let’s just do it,” explains Gessler. “We sent the message out to as many people as we could, and we got a list of names. This year, so many people need it. What’s nice about this is, it really does some good. Everyone we talked to was appreciative.”
Helping the project get off the ground was Jimmy Tanghe, owner of Shamrock, who found a way to turn the many donations into boxes crammed to the lids with nutritious food. “I asked if he was up to the challenge,” Gessler says, “and he was.”
This year’s project was so successful, Gessler says, there are already plans to do it again. And Gessler and his gang are already thinking big: “I think 200 baskets is the minimum for next year.”