“They Feel a Spiritual Joy Here.”
The Salvation Army Tabernacle Corps Community Center, at the intersection of Allegheny Avenue and Mascher Street, sits in the heart of the Fairhill-West Kensington section of Philadelphia. The largely Hispanic neighborhood is considered one of the poorest in the city, with a poverty rate of more than 62-percent – more than double the overall Philadelphia poverty rate of 26.3-percent – according to the U.S. Census. The once thriving manufacturing community of 50 years ago is now a sea of deteriorating buildings, trash-strewn streets, high crime, drug sales and prostitution.
“This is a very tough neighborhood,” said Captain Omar Rolon, Co-Commanding Officer, The Salvation Army Tabernacle Corps Community Center.
The Salvation Army is a place so many here in need turn to for support and spiritual guidance. That’s why every Wednesday, Luce Melendez and dozens of other older residents gather at Tabernacle for socializing, lunch, games, educational workshops and praise. They come for the new Seniors Program, which kicked off in the summer of 2015 with approximately 20 participants. Now it draws as many as 50 people on any given week.
“I’ve been here from the start,” Melendez, 58, said in her native Spanish, translated by Salvation Army social worker Hilda Gonzales.
Many of the elderly people living in the community have been here for decades, most without the financial and/or physical means to travel beyond the neighborhood for their needs. Melendez, who is a mother of three grown children, grandmother and great-grandmother, lives alone and walks a few blocks to the program every Wednesday like everyone else in the room.
“There are a lot of seniors who live by themselves and this is an opportunity for them to socialize. It’s very important to me. I love the songs and entertainment,” she explained in Spanish.
Staying physically and mentally active is key to maintaining health as we age. The Salvation Army’s Senior Program at Tabernacle is one of the only such local opportunities for older adults like Luce Melendez. It also provides participants with connections to valuable medical and social services, education workshops and worship. Pharmacies, hospice, the American Heart Association are among dozens of community agencies meeting with the seniors to teach them about things such healthcare and nutrition.
“They love it,” said Hilda Gonzales, social worker at center and senior program coordinator. “They feel a spiritual joy here. It’s good for them to get out of the house and socialize. Bingo is their favorite game.”
On this day the group sang praise in Spanish, played games and ate a healthy lunch prepared by a team of volunteers.
“There is compassion in this community,” Captain Rolon said, who is grateful for the dedicated volunteers who help make the program happen each week.
Luce Melendez assures she will be back here again next week.
“I enjoy the prayer. It brings peace,” she said.
In a neighborhood ravaged by poverty and crime, The Salvation Army’s Tabernacle Corps Community Center is a beacon for seniors in need.