‘Benifest’ celebrates the life of Jenna Burleigh

On Thursday night, a benefit concert was hosted at The Trocadero Theatre for Jenna’s Blessing Bags, in memory of Jenna Burleigh.

A crowd gathers at The Trocadero in Chinatown for a night of music to benefit Jenna's Blessing Bags on Thursday. | VALERIE MCINTYRE / THE TEMPLE NEWS

In every backpack given out through the Jenna’s Blessing Bags Foundation, Jenna Burleigh’s parents include a tag with a line she once wrote on her blog.

“I truly believe in the good in people and the magic that can be found in all of us,” it reads. “I will always fight for what’s right. I will always fight for equality for all.”

On Thursday night, Benifest 3: Jenna’s Blessing Bags, was held at the Trocadero Theatre on Arch Street near 10th. Benifest 3, which is part of a series of benefit concerts, fundraised for Jenna’s Blessing Bags, a foundation that distributes backpacks full of clothes, toiletries and nonperishable foods to people affected by homelessness in major cities. It was started by Ed and Jaqui Burleigh in memory of their daughter, Jenna.

In August, Jenna, a junior film and media arts major, was murdered off campus. Joshua Hupperterz, a former advertising student, was charged with her murder and is currently awaiting trial.

The Burleighs founded Jenna’s Blessing Bags in September 2017, less than a week after her death. The foundation was modeled after Jenna’s own service. She would give out bags with supplies to help homeless people in Philadelphia. Chapters were also started by the Burleigh family in Colorado and Massachusetts.

“She was always getting involved in things and looking to help others that needed it,” said Karla Pisarcik, Jenna’s childhood friend. “She recognized that she had a voice, and she really wanted to be able to use that and help others through her privilege.”

When Benifest’s founder Mason Payonk, who is dating Pisarcik, heard about Jenna’s Blessing Bags, Payonk knew he wanted to dedicate his third Benifest to the foundation.

“Once we heard from her parents and they announced that they were starting a foundation, Mason was like, ‘This is a perfect cause to dedicate Benifest 3 to,’ and then we started planning it basically ever since then,” Pisarcik said.

Benifest 3 drew artists from Philadelphia and New Jersey, including Alexander Charles, Schilly, Wes Phoenix, Kenif Muse, Chuck$oDope and Scottie Kash, to the Trocadero Balcony to perform.

Payonk said he invited live musicians and bands to perform at the event to capture Jenna’s positive and cheerful personality.

“The first person I reached out to was Schilly because he has a very funky upbeat sound, and from what I heard from everyone who knew Jenna, that was kind of her cup of tea,” Payonk said. “She was always upbeat, listening to fun music like that.”

Payonk, who estimates the event raised $1,000, began Benifest in January 2017 and held the first concert to raise money for the Tim Langan Brain Aneurysm Foundation, which a close friend’s father started after having a brain aneurysm.

Pisarcik and Jenna met in the sixth grade and remained friends ever since.

“We were really close throughout middle school and high school,” Pisarcik said. “I could trust her and…I really haven’t had many friends like that in my life since I met her, and [I think about] how special that really is.”

Pisarcik said Jenna was an activist. She attended the 2017 Women’s March on Philadelphia. She also spoke out regularly about LGBTQ issues and the stigma surrounding mental health in blog posts.

Several people, including Jaqui Burleigh, wore cat ears to the event, like ones Jenna that wore. Ed Burleigh said the event’s atmosphere was positive and festive, just like Jenna’s personality.

“Everyone just had a truly great time,” Ed Burleigh said. “Jenna’s friends, Temple students, family and all of her supporters were just together having a wonderful time.”

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