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A New Perspective on the City of Brotherly Love

Posted on 4/28/2016 10:03:13 AM by Alyssa Garrison

Growing up in South Jersey I have always spent time in Philadelphia. Most of my family’s traditions were centered in the city. For as long as I can remember every Thanksgiving my dad would wake my sisters and I before sunrise. We would bundle ourselves up in our winter jackets and layers while my dad prepared hot chocolate in thermoses for us. We would drive into the city and park in the same parking spot year after year, and then we would begin our walk. My dad, wanting to avoid traffic, always parks a few blocks away, but the route was tradition so my sisters and I never mind. With blankets in hand we walk the city streets, passing over the Schuylkill Expressway and hopping on the stepping stones of the statue of Benjamin Franklin. Once we arrive we claim our spot, lay down our blankets and meet our cousins to watch the Thanksgiving Day parade. This has been a treasured tradition in my family, sitting on the Ben Franklin Parkway watching the floats and marching bands pass by. No matter how cold the weather, we were there, knowing we’d come home later that day to a big, warm meal being prepared for us.

As a Catholic, community service has always been an important aspect of my life. Knowing how fortunate I am to have the life that I do, I came to Cabrini knowing I wanted to give back in some way. When I interviewed for Campus Ministry, I was asked if I had any interest in outreach to the homeless. Without any knowledge of what I was volunteering for, I eagerly said yes. Little did I know, my first night feeding the homeless would change the way I viewed this city forever.

The first half of Peanut Butter and Jelly Night is spent making sandwiches and packing snacks to take into the city. Once the food is prepared we pile into vans and head into the city. On our way down Father Carl said something that really resonated with me. He mentioned that as we go out to feed the homeless it is so important to understand that we are entering their home. This is where they live and it is important to be respectful of the fact that we are guests. We headed to the Free Public Library of Philadelphia. As we climbed out of the vans I looked at my surroundings. As I take in the scene, I notice where I am. I walk these streets every year for the Thanksgiving Day Parade. I am a block away from the stepping stones of the statue of Benjamin Franklin. I am a block away from the cold pavement we set up our cozy blankets on. I am a block away from where my sisters and I shiver and laugh at our red noses while sipping hot chocolate. Only one block away and I am standing in these people’s home.

Two students in a car piled with blankets

 That's me on the right with Jessica Pepenella '16 during a blanket drive.

That moment had a huge impact on my life. I am so fortunate to have such joyous memories of those city streets, because I don’t have to lay my head down at night on them. There are so many things that we take for granted and it is so rare that we reflect on the simple luxuries that we have in our life. I still feel a sense of guilt after feeding the homeless when I return home at night. Community service is rewarding in so many ways, but I don’t do it for myself. I do it for the people whose lives I'm impacting. To see a smile on someone’s face when you hand them a blanket that will last them the whole winter, or to give someone the only meal that they may get that  day, that is why I serve.