People’s Kitchen in South Philadelphia serves

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Chef Aziza Young, El Compadre Restaurant and 215 People’s Alliance started The People’s Kitchen during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four years later, it is still going strong and fulfilling its mission of mutual aid and food sovereignty at a time when nearly 250,000 Philadelphians are battling food insecurity. The kitchen, a collaborative of chefs, students and volunteers, operates from its Italian Market location and fights hunger one meal at a time.

April McGreger, chef, preservation expert, and executive board member and volunteer, said the collaborative’s goal goes beyond battling hunger to envisioning a better way for everyone to share resources.

“The idea of mutual aid isn’t just positioning us where we’re taking care of people, it is giving everyone a chance to contribute, and to be involved in creating something better, … being there for each other and being each other’s safety net,” she said.
April McGregerApril McGreger uses her expertise on preservation and fermentation to turn surplus produce into long-lasting, tasty jams and pickled ingredients. (Emily Neil/WHYY)

Between The People’s Kitchen and food rescue organizations Punks with Lunch and Food Not Bombs, around 500 hot meals are prepared weekly at the Ninth Street kitchen. The meals are distributed directly at the location or in the surrounding area. Chefs and volunteers take extra care to prepare meals that meet community members’ cultural and dietary preferences.

Rebecca Ng, a volunteer with The People’s Kitchen who serves as a translator for the Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking community members, said many people appreciate the range of meals offered.

“It’s really good, you know, they make different styles,” Ng said, noting that in the 30 years she’s lived in South Philly, she’s seen the neighborhood grow increasingly diverse — a reality that McGreger said the volunteers and chefs strive to reflect in the dishes they serve.
April McGreger and Rebecca NgApril McGreger, left, executive board member of The People’s Kitchen, speaks with volunteer Rebecca Ng, right, outside of the organization’s storefront in the Italian Market. (Emily Neil/WHYY)

Depending on the day, community members can come directly to the kitchen’s door at 1149 S. 9th Street for a hot meal at 3 p.m. There’s also a community fridge outside that is stocked with food items.

McGreger said the central tenets of mutual aid are tied to her family roots in a small sustenance farming community in rural Mississippi.

“Food also for me was always about community, always about bringing people together, always about taking care of people,” she said. “And that was something that I was really taught as a very important cultural value. And I feel like that is what a lot of us who are involved in The People’s Kitchen are really interested in, … pushing back against this idea of winner-takes-all late-stage capitalism of ‘We don’t care if you’re dying in the streets.’”

McGreger started volunteering at the kitchen in 2020. Her experience with preservation and fermentation plays a particularly important role — the kitchen receives food donations from Shoprite and other businesses, and chefs often have to get creative to use the ingredients at hand or preserve them for extended use.

Another important aspect of the collaborative’s food sovereignty work is the community garden in Southwest Philadelphia, where volunteers tend to 30 lots at 62nd and Reinhardt streets. The produce goes first to community members, but sometimes, especially in the summer, when there is an excess of certain fruits and vegetables, it is sent to the South Philly kitchen, where McGreger uses her preservation and fermentation expertise to turn the surplus into long-lasting, tasty additions to meals.

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