When is a community center more than just a building? When it’s full of soul, goodness and play.
North Light is special to me, both for personal and community reasons.
My wife, Rebecca, and I purchased the house across the street from North Light before we really knew what it stood for.
We didn’t know about its 80-plus years of history caring for the Manayunk, Roxborough and East Falls communities. We didn’t know it provided thousands and thousands of pounds of food each year (162,000 pounds last year). We didn’t know it provided utility and rent assistance. We didn’t know it was the spot for indoor volleyball, basketball and a world of other indoor sports (pre-pandemic). We didn’t know how many kids called North Light their safe place while their parents worked.
We didn’t know how much soul, care and love could come from within this building across the street.
We just saw its awesome playgrounds and thought, “that might be fun one day!” Little did we know it would become a place where my 4-year-old would learn how to climb a jungle gym and propel himself on swings.
As I started to see the happy faces walking out its doors, I got curious. I would hear excited kids running through the water-spray turtle in the summer, and I got more curious. I would hear the whistle from the indoor volleyball league in the winter, and I got even more curious. And when I noticed the trucks delivering what looked like so much food every week to its doors, I knew I had to find out more.
Food insecurity is an issue dear to my heart because nobody should go hungry in the richest country in the world. As a second-generation Italian, too much food was always the norm growing up. I didn’t understand the struggle of an empty kitchen table. I also love to feed people because eating a meal with someone often brings joy and bridges any divide. A good meal can make anyone forget about their problems.
When I learned how much work North Light would do to eliminate food insecurity with the very people, I call my neighbors, I asked to get involved and donate my time. As a local business owner of JPG Photo & Video, I made sure we documented every fundraiser and we stayed on to capture other important moments. As we spent more time with North Light, I knew I wanted to get more involved. It was then I decided to join the board.
Now, one of my favorite holiday activities is delivering quality holiday meals to those who could use an extra meal to make it through the holidays. In 2019, my son and wife joined me delivering food to a senior facility in Germantown. Seeing so many faces light up when he would hand them a delicious meal to their door absolutely brightened my day. Sharing the holiday spirit with food is truly a way to show love and demonstrate one’s soul.
The pandemic has made North Light’s food mission even more important. This year’s holiday food delivery wasn’t quite the same, as contactless delivery doesn’t allow for the same intimate sharing. Nevertheless, when our recipients heard a North Light delivery was at their door, you could hear the joy in their voices. Together, with our neighbors, we were able to provide joy through those meals to over 700 members of our community.
Through all of North Light’s activities, I love that I get to help deliver joy with this amazing organization. But I know we can do a better job. Despite all of the amazing work North Light does, they are still relatively unknown, even in our little corner of Philadelphia. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and these service opportunities with me as I push to make North Light, and our community, even better in 2021.
Joe Gidjunis is the President of JPG Photo & Video and a Board Member at North Light Community Center. He lives in Manayunk with his wife, Rebecca, and their young son.