By Amy Phillips
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Each family that signed up for a Thanksgiving meal will be given a turkey or chicken and all of the fixings to make their meal complete, according to organizers of Paul’s Place located on Ward Street.
In addition, thousands of vegetable cans, mashed potato boxes, and gravy jars (just to name a few) line the tables of Paul’s Place for families in need.
Members of the military will be stuffing bags this weekend to ensure families receive their food in plenty of time before Thanksgiving Day.
“We truly focus on treating our Baltimoreans with dignity and respect,” said Jayna Powell, Paul’s Place volunteer coordinator.
Paul’s Place, an organization serving Washington Village/Pigtown, was created in 1982 by two volunteers from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Glyndon: Helen Matien and the Rev. Philip Roulette. The two felt that the need for a soup kitchen in one of the poorest cities in the state was necessary.
Now in its 35th year, Paul’s Place has expanded to provide programs, services, and support to families who might not get the proper health care, education, employment or housing they need.
Southwest Baltimore City is known for facing extraordinary challenges, like drug trafficking, commercial sex work, high unemployment rates, and low literacy levels, according to paulsplaceoutreach.org. Forty percent of adults have not earned high school diplomas and lack the experience they need to obtain a steady job.
“A lot of the people we assist are in a cycle of poverty and just cannot get out of it,” Powell said. “Every time they try, a door is slammed in their face. Our goal at Paul’s Place is to open those doors for them.”
Paul’s Place not only provides food and clothing for people in need, it offers many programs for them to reach their full potential, especially when applying for jobs, Powell said.
Many employers require job candidates to fill out applications online, which is difficult when people in need do not have access to or knowledge of how to work a computer.
Paul’s Place has a computer lab with helpers to assist people in filling out job applications and building résumés. In addition, workers are brought in to train them how to act professionally during an interview.
“We let people come in and pick out clothes from our store to wear for their interviews, and we even have someone who comes in to give them haircuts before their interviews so they look as neat as possible,” Powell said. “This is where treating them with dignity and respect really pays off.”
In addition to having an unfair advantage in the job market, families seeking help from Paul’s Place struggle with providing food for their families.
“By coming to Paul’s Place, we are allowing families to have meals that otherwise would not make enough money to cook dinner,” said Tamie Flax, the day program coordinator at Paul’s Place. “It’s sad to think families have to choose between turning on the lights for the day or cooking a single meal because they simply can’t afford it.”
Paul’s Place relies on volunteers, especially during the holiday food drive.
On one recent day, students from John Hopkins University separated summer and winter clothes in the clothing store while Towson University students were unloading shipments of canned and boxed goods for the food drive.
“It feels really great to come out and help the community, and realize how much of an impact Paul’s Place has on the people it serves,” said Towson senior Samantha Philipson.
Her friends she was volunteering alongside nodded in agreement.
“I was expecting to have to sort through a lot of food, and today certainly exceeded those expectations,” said Jenn Trainor, a freshman at Towson. “When I saw the first delivery truck, I thought, ‘man do we have a big job to do.’”
Trainor’s friend, Olivia Capolupo, focused on separating green beans from peas and corn from potatoes for the four hours she volunteered.
“It was definitely a tiring day, but the reward of helping those in need was worth it,” Capolupo said.
Paul’s Place is aiming to increase the number of Thanksgiving meals for families next year, in addition to expanding its day-to-day programs to ensure the best quality of assistance for families in need.
While the Thanksgiving food drive is now closed, Paul’s Place is always looking for food and clothing donations. In order to help out Baltimoreans in Washington Village/Pigtown, please visit (paulsplaceoutreach.org).