(Photo via facebook.com/kensingtonstorefront)
On a recent rainy, chilly night, textile artist Kathryn Pannepacker watched commuters on Wayne Avenue hurry home.
She wasn’t in a rush — like every other Monday this month, she had committed to sitting on a stoop in Germantown, rain or shine, to collect donations for the Kensington Storefront.
The workers in the storefront on Kensington Avenue near Somerset Street, which has offered free wellness workshops since March 2017, are on the frontlines of a crisis in the neighborhood seeing rising rates of death by overdose and homelessness. Last month, Mayor Jim Kenney declared a state of disaster in Kensington.
Alongside fellow artist Lisa Kelley, Pannepacker helps lead the Tuesday Tea & Textiles workshops every week from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. at the storefront. Over tea and sandwiches, the duo teaches participants how to weave and seeks to support them with conversation.
“[The Kensington Storefront] is a place where they can just go and sit and not feel judged,” Pannepacker said. “It really feels like a sense of recognition. It’s like, ‘I see your essence. I know who you are. You may not be in your best ways right now, but essentially I know who you are.’ The people who come through know that we want the best for them.”
Pannepacker and Kelley also recently began offering a similar workshop in Prevention Point Philadelphia, a harm reduction nonprofit on Kensington Avenue and Monument Street, on Thursdays.
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During her stoop sit-ins, Pannepacker collects supplies for the Tuesday Tea & Textiles workshops. Common needs include socks, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (preferably individually wrapped), T-shirts and fruit. For the cold months, she asks for hats and gloves. She said Mural Arts stocks some of the storefront’s supplies, but donations are essential.
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Yes indeed, I'll be at my stoop-sit vigil today, Monday, rain or shine, 6140 Wayne Avenue #germantown #philly 5:30-7p receiving your gifts of socks, teeshirts, pb& j's, fruit &, while I'm thinking of it, hats and gloves…on behalf of our dearhearts in #kensington #addiction #trauma #homelessness Just as voting on Tuesday is critical, so is keeping our love heart spirit center open soft #humanity #dignity #humility #generocity #authenticity #bethechange do as be as Thanks
Pannepacker, who lives in Germantown, started the stoop sit-ins during August and continued in September, but wasn’t able to keep up with them in October due to traveling. She hopes she can continue during the winter.
The practice is designed to be a simple exchange of care. Her part: posting about it on social media and stooping in Germantown for about an hour and a half. Others’ part: showing up with something to give.
“They’re busy with their own life, their own family, their own responsibilities,” Pannepacker said. “It’s a beautiful thing when one does have the time space, the head space, the money space … to connect.”
As the only person outside as the rain falls and cars go by, Pannepacker also prioritizes self-reflection during the “forced moments of quiet” on the stoop. Some days she’ll work on current art projects; on others, she’ll use the time to make sandwiches for the storefront.
But the stoop sit-ins are mainly meant to be a catalyst for connection outside of Pannepacker, who hopes her Germantown neighbors reach out to those in Kensington by giving.
The desire to support others drives the Tuesday Tea & Textiles meetings. At the end of each workshop, they all come together, tie a piece of colorful yarn around their wrists and say one of their blessings.
This past Monday, Pannepacker still had a green string from a prior week tied neatly on her wrist. It’s a reminder of one of her blessings: the relationships she’s built at the storefront.
Sometimes those connections are as simple as the people visiting the storefront asking Pannepacker and her fellow workers how they’re doing: “I just think that’s beautiful when people are in the thick of their own life and can check in on you,” she said.
“All these gestures of people giving, that’s important, that’s really important,” she added. “It’s apathy that is the dangerous thing.”-30-
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