Monday through Friday, the Church of the Advocate opens its doors to the hungry in the North Philadelphia community through a cafeteria bearing a familiar name.
“Often we don’t even refer to it as the soup kitchen, it’s the Advocate Cafe,” Parish Administrator Lynn Buggage said. “And just that name is our attempt to associate some level of dignity, some level of community for the folks that come here.”
The Advocate Cafe first opened in 1983 at the church, which is known for being a center of activism and community service. Since then, the cafe has expanded significantly, Buggage said.
“The congregation decided it was something that was definitely needed for the community,” she said. “In the last five to six years, they’ve expanded it out, they got a commercial kitchen, and it has evolved into less of what people kind of have as an image when you say ‘soup kitchen.’”
Several volunteers help run the Advocate Cafe, many of whom are patrons themselves. Makida Golsonel said she started volunteering with her son, who was involved with the church.
“I’ve been here for two months,” Golsonel said. “Everybody gets along, everybody’s nice.”
Ann Jefferson, who has been volunteering since the early 2000s, said she works hard to keep the Advocate Cafe clean.
“I think that’s my hobby,” Jefferson said. “I enjoy cleaning. It gives me something to do. I’m bored, this is it!”
Mamie Mathis, the cook, has been working at the Advocate Cafe for four to five years and said she enjoys the challenges of the job.
“It’s good because I know a lot of the clients that come here, but it’s also challenging because you have to deal with so many different personalities, plus your own personality,” Mathis said. “Me and clients, we clash a lot, but I think now we’re on the grounds that even though we still clash, we respect one another.”
Respect is the overriding rule at the Advocate Cafe, which primarily serves the local community, but has a diverse clientele. Buggage said the Advocate Cafe helped a student when he was struggling to feed himself.
“We had one guy who lost his wallet in the supermarket and he was like, ‘I can make it till the end of the month, but I’m going to need some help if I can just find somewhere to eat,’” Buggage said. “I could tell he was a little reluctant about it initially, but he did come back. I think we helped break down some barriers for him.”
Jefferson said working at the Advocate Cafe has allowed her to learn more about community members.
“Everyone has their ups and downs, but they just break through,” Jefferson said. “It teaches me patience. They just want somebody to listen to, and I’m a listening ear.”
Takicia Robinson said she visits the cafe often and volunteers when she can. She added that she has never seen anything like the Advocate Cafe.
“In my 36 years, I’ve never known a soup kitchen like this—for a place like this to be open,” she said.