When most Philadelphians think of Rittenhouse Square, it often does not lead one to believe there is a strong case of food insecurity and homelessness for its neighboring residents.
However, as Gabriel Buyske-Friedberg would explain, that is the reality.
“People who are seemingly affluent in some areas of Rittenhouse Square are truly not,” said Buyske-Friedberg, a volunteer with the program Open Hearts Cafe.
Before becoming a volunteer in 2021, Buyske-Friedberg was an employee of the Sunday Love Project, which focuses on easing the financial burden among families struggling to choose between paying bills and feeding their families in communities such as the city’s Kensington section and beyond.
The program operated in the kitchen of The Church of The Holy Trinity on the 1900 block of Walnut Street but later pursued a different path elsewhere in closer proximity to Kensington.
During this process, Buyske-Friedberg grew closer to the values of the church and engaged in deeper conversations with Rev. John Gardner as a need was seen in the area the church’s kitchen resided in.
This soon led Buyske-Friedberg to pivot his mission to help give back and join the newly established Open Hearts Cafe program.
Founded in Nov. 2021, Open Hearts Cafe dedicates every Sunday and Tuesday, producing nearly 300 meals weekly to serve those in need.
Open Hearts Cafe has become a vital source of giving for individuals of all different backgrounds in the surrounding community of Rittenhouse Square.
In addition to providing hot meals weekly, the program also welcomes all individuals that are in basic need of clothing necessities.
“Blankets, backpacks, feminine hygiene products, toiletries, all sorts of things,” explains Buyske-Friedberg who now serves as the director of outreach for Open Hearts Cafe. “In a week, we serve 300 people through a combination of meals, orders filled, and interpersonal services.”
Open Hearts Cafe aims to continue its community-oriented services and remain an essential resource for many.
Gardner, who runs the program, depends heavily on the donations provided to Open Hearts Cafe and other outside organizations to expand their hosting abilities.
Those items include, but are not limited to: men’s pants (size 32-34), men’s underwear (all sizes), socks, jackets/hoodies, belts, men’s shoes, sweatpants and toiletries (especially razors and soap).
In honor of the program’s one-year anniversary, local chef Amanda Schulman of Her Place Supper Club will be catering a meal the Sunday before Thanksgiving on Nov. 20.
While Buyske-Friedberg acknowledges these efforts don’t necessarily resolve the root issues these participants are faced with daily, it certainly helps.
“We’ve really built connections and relationships with the people in the area,” he added.
Metro is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at brokeinphilly.org or follow on Twitter at @BrokeInPhilly.