Store front church a safe haven for kids in West Philly neighborhood
When Philadelphia residents buy or donate items at the "Toviah Thrift Store," located on 42nd and Chestnut Street, they also help fund a community ministry for kids living in West Philly.
Founded by shop owner, Larry Falcon, the Toviah Thrift Shop also serves as a place where young people can come in after school to shoot a game of pool or play with toys and video games they could not otherwise afford.
As you walk through the door, the shop is split into two – one side is a store where items are sold during the day. The other side holds a miniature chapel. On Friday evening and Sunday mornings when the shop is closed, he holds services. The services attract roughly forty congregants a week.
"It's a meeting point," said Falcon. He gears his sermons to all comers, and uses the metaphor of a swimming pool, explaining that the message has to be "shallow enough for the children but deep enough for the adults".
Falcon began learning about Christianity through reading the Old and New Testament. He eventually studied at the Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in West Philadelphia where he earned Hebrew and Greek.
Falcon did not see himself becoming a pastor until he started a group called the "Jesus club." The club originally began as a recreational group for local kids to play weekly basketball and softball games that Falcon organized to keep the the neighborhood kids something to do to keep them out of trouble. The kids would later request weekly softball meets and bible studies at the church. "If the children didn't have recreation, then they wouldn't want bible studies," said Falcon.
At first the community services were a secret to those who bought items from the Thrift Store. When neighbors found out about the church and the safe haven he was creating for kids, they began to donate items".
"When people discovered we were a small church they donated to us through clothing, and we decided to sell that at a low price to help the ministry and kids," Falcon said.
Falcon is also a community activist. He became a powerful voice for the community when a McDonald's restaurant teamed with the University of Pennsylvania's to locate a fast food outlet at 43rd Street several years ago.
Falcon described Penn's expansion into the neighborhoods. as, "McPenntification," "I think they look at the neighborhood in terms of houses not homes," he said.
As he approaches the age of 70, the nickname Papa given to him by the children he ministers is a good fit. But the father of three and grandfather is still energetic.
"Love never fails," said Falcon. "That's my agenda."