Local woman fights the system to save kids from the streets

- In the shadow of Philadelphia's booming Center City skyline, little children go hungry in some neighborhoods full of challenges.

A recent report shows close to a 500,000 Philadelphia residents now live below the poverty line; the highest among the nation's 10 largest cities.

But there is a grandmother, refusing to settle for that. She showed FOX 29's Joyce Evans how she's fighting the system to save kids from the mean streets.

They children say they're happy, and feel safe at Miss Monica's. However, many say they come because they are hungry.

"We get to have snacks at snacktime and lunch and lunchtime," one of the children explained.

That's what the neighborhood children thought they were getting, when they saw Miss Monica's door open and there were people inside.

They got crackers, juice, strawberries, and so much more over the past two summers.

Monica Wright ran a summer meals program out of the same rowhouse where she raised her own children years ago.

"To do something for the kids who were going to come up on this same block."

She does it so she can help the children who are growing up on the 3100 block of Reach Street, where her own children grew up.

It's a mean street, they say, in the middle of a hard neighborhood, where some children are sharing living quarters with rats, mice, and roaches families say they can't keep out.

The struggle is even harder for working parents and grandparents.

"You've got people with 3 and 4 kids with income of less than a thousand a month," Monica explained.

Just trying to keep the lights on, clothes on the children and food on the table, they don't always hit the mark.

"People around here survive that's why I say they work together," Monica said.

They come together by depending on one another, wherever they can.

"You can't do anything but work together when you make less than a thousand a month," Monica explained.

Miss Monica admits is not a wealthy woman by any stretch.

"I'll be honest, I only make $10.00 and I work part time to help with my grandkids," Monica said.

She says she uses her background in childcare, non-profits, and knowledge of public assistance programs to meet the health, safety, and other guidelines, to get funding through the USDA's Summer Meals program.

She says they made their own lunches for about 20 kids a day, and they loved it.             

Miss Monica had no problem getting neighbors like Shirl Robinson, a retired Grandmom, to volunteer with the kids.

"Maybe the parent has to work late, it gives them the opportunity to sit down with other children, communicate, and it gives them the opportunity to be out the streets," Shirl explained.  

Other groups donate time and services to expose the kids to more, including dancing and magic tricks.\

Little Jayvin and company politely took their seats at the table for the first time since summer ended, but, Miss Monica had nothing to give them on this day.

The meals program has not yet been extended ,as they had hoped.

That caused the mood in the room to change, and the kids just didn’t seem to understand.        

She searched the fridge and found a few snacks she'd bought for her grandchildren.

They were happy, for this day, but Monica Wright is fuming, angry that she was turned down for the fall or school year version of the summer meals program.

"If there is money out there that's supposed to be for children in this neighborhood, they should be coordinating, it shouldn't be a struggle. It shouldn't cost a thousand dollars to reopen after I was just open in the summer," Monica said.

Says she's paying fees now to go before a review board to get approval and funding for the "at-risk after school meals" program.

"If there are people saying I'm going to provide a safe place and food and nourishment, should the same poor people have to pay for that right? That doesn't make any sense," Monica added.

L & I spokeswoman Karen Guss says Monica Wright's situation is unique,  and since she using a rowhouse to host the program is not allowed under the guidelines , even though she somehow got the funding for the summer program without L & I clearance.

While federal, state, and local agencies are ultimately responsible for the health and safety of the children in the program, Karen Guss sums up what we got from all three levels of government.

"The fact that there are kids who are going hungry in our neighborhoods is just devastating, it's just awful," Karen said, "I think what she's doing is incredible, but I am not the king of zoning code, I don't get to just throw it out."

That's not stopping Monica for going after changes in those rules, while she continues her plea for  a waiver, and uses her own money, when she can, to offer food and more to the kids who asked her to stay open.

"I'm not gonna stop, they're all here, I'm NOT 'gonna stop," Monica explained. 

How you can help, here: https://www.gofundme.com/philly247childcare 

Monica Wright

3125 Reach St.

Philadelphia, PA 19134


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