A long table with different brands of bread and non-perishable cans of food sat inside Agape International Baptist Church. Jackie Wleh, founder of ABC Men, Inc., is preparing for the food pantry to be opened that day.
ABC Men began providing a food pantry in March 2014 at the Agape Church in Southwest Philadelphia on every third Saturday of the month.
Since its beginning in 2010 by the Temple alumnus, ABC Men, or Able Bodied Christian Men, has added new aspects to its community support.
Last year, by reaching out to various news networks, ABC Men was able to receive a major increase in senior and disabled requests and some volunteers.
“This year, I want to be more proactive about recruiting volunteers,” Wleh said.
The organization’s motto is “Deeds not words.” Although the organization was created around spirituality, Wleh said it allows participation for everyone regardless of race, religion or gender.
“As an able-bodied man, I’m happy to go out there and assist with anything,” said Larry Wesseh, a volunteer with ABC Men for the past three years.
Currently, ABC Men focuses on Southwest and West Philadelphia. Wleh said the organization also sees a need in surrounding areas, including Delaware County.
The organization was conceived on the thought of helping senior citizens with snow removal and is still looking for volunteers for that need, or whatever need they see that needs to be met.
“Whether you are a good writer, reader or musician, whatever help you can provide, we will take it,” Wleh said.
While the group’s work began as a project to help with snow removal, Wleh and his wife transformed the organization into a multifaceted plan to aid the Philadelphia community as a whole, with the addition of a food pantry, youth programs and employment resources.
The Agape Church already provided a food pantry, but Wleh said he believed it would be a great place for ABC Men to get involved.
“The food pantry was a need in the community,” Wleh said.
Over the summer, Wleh said that every Thursday the line for the pantry would go down the block at 68th Street and Elmwood Avenue in Southwest Philly.
Since then, ABC Men has moved the pantry to every third Saturday of the month, so they can provide as much for the pantry as possible.
Some companies like ShopRite provide ABC Men with the non-perishables and Pepperidge Farm allocates loaves of bread for the organization.
The organization also plans on adding an employment resource center for Philadelphia youth.
“We will be implementing a summer job program for the youth, senior citizens and the disabled to help sustain them,” Wleh said.
The youth program aids youth between 12-21. ABC Men offers youth members free back-to-school supplies and an array of volunteer opportunities.
Wleh stressed the importance of their youth programs, in which they mentor, educate and take the young adults on trips, like to Washington, D.C.
“You can only imagine what it’s like taking the at-risk youth in our community to the White House; it’s an eye opener for a lot of [kids],” Wleh said.
The organization was also able to take the youth to the State Capitol building last year.
Louise Faith Boimah, an 8-year-old volunteer of ABC Men, assisted the organization during the MLK weekend food pantry. Boimah is one of ABC Men’s youngest volunteers.
“I don’t want to get paid to do this,” she said. “I just want to help.”
Wleh, a 2014 anthropology graduate, is currently pursuing his master’s in cultural anthropology at Eastern University.
“I would love to teach anthropology at the university level,” Wleh said.
Wleh said he hopes he is implementing his cultural anthropology education with the people he serves through ABC Men.
ABC Men is looking to expand and find its own building, as the Agape Church currently lends them its space.
Wleh said the organization has reached out to Mayor Michael Nutter in hopes that he will donate to its cause; in particular, Wleh is seeking help to raise money for a 15-passenger van for volunteer transportation.
“There are such diverse people and all different walks of life,” Wleh said. “Our heart is service, so we are going to do it, in hopefully due time.”
Emily Scott can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org