A network of community gardens in South Philadelphia are farmed by resettled refugees. For winter, the beds are covered with plastic but the gardeners still need fresh produce. So, on an early morning this week, with the temperature well below freezing, a line of people stretched around the corner from a garden south of Snyder, waiting for a delivery of fruit.
When a pick-up truck arrived, loaded with cardboard cartons of produce, volunteers speaking at least four different languages had a smooth assembly line running in minutes. They handed every person in line a bunch of bananas, a handful of oranges and other items out of the boxes.
The Nationalities Services Center which helps immigrants and refugees in Philadelphia, drives in the donated fruit. NSC has settled a large number of refugees in South Philadelphia — including Burmese, Bhutanese, and Cambodians.
Those who have a garden plot may grow as much as $650 worth of produce each season. That can be can be hard to replace during the winter and for many in the neighborhood is enough to cover a month's rent. The gardeners are often older relatives who might not otherwise contribute to family finances.
Besides, since South Philadelphia has fewer empty lots than elsewhere in the city, Juliane Ramic explained as many people are on the waiting list for garden plots as actually farm.
The fruit distribution serves both immigrant populations and some longtime neighborhood residents.
"What we were trying to do was keep healthy foods in the bellies of these families so if we can't get them a garden plot then can they then benefit here," said Ramic.
With demand so high, NSC doesn't promote the program anymore. As families become self-supporting they share the information about the drop-off with others.
Ramic said newer families can be found clustered at the end of the queue.
Among them, Tial Hlei and a group of friends consulted in Burmese on the English names of fruit they hoped for in their shares.
Bananas, apple, kiwi, oranges, and grapes.
Watching people standing in line in sweatshirts, shawls and thin jackets, Ramic sees another need: warm coats.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect that the fruit deliveries take place once a week.
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