The Sunday LOVE Project is preparing to go beyond ready-made meals and offer groceries

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After three years giving out ready-to-eat meals to Philadelphians in need, the Sunday LOVE Project is opening what founder Margaux Murphy calls “a free grocery store.”

Located in the Church of the Holy Trinity across from the northwest corner of Rittenhouse Square, the shop area will have shelves stocked with fresh produce, canned goods, non-perishable pantry items and hygiene products, just like a regular market. The difference will be the price. After people fill their baskets with an assortment of items and head to checkout counters, they will simply walk out without exchanging any money, or handing over any vouchers.

“Yes, it’s like a food pantry,” said Murphy, “but I’m trying to get away from those words. And SNAP is a great program, but there’s a stigma attached to food stamps. I want this to feel like a CSA.”

There might be a swap table at the center, for example, in case people want to drop off things they won’t use or don’t like and trade for desired goods. “There won’t be any wax beans, ugh,” Murphy said, noting many pantries are full of the same kinds of food.

She’s also considering enlisting high school students interested in community service to run registers that tally the items bought and even print a receipt, so shoppers get a feeling of normalcy.

Like Sunday LOVE’s other projects, which include regular meal giveaways at various public spaces around the city and a twice weekly sit-down meal served at Holy Trinity, there won’t be any needs test for people to take advantage.

“Anyone’s welcome!” Murphy said. “You don’t have to prove that you’re homeless” — a requirement at some Philly free food providers — “or show your income.”

The Sunday LOVE grocery doesn’t yet have an official title, but Murphy envisions it being up and running by the end of October. The church is donating the space, she said. They’re also allowing her to use a storage unit that was previously sitting empty — so donations are already being accepted. Murphy will look to Philabundance for some of the items, and also rely on the Food Connect app or direct relationships she’s built over the past couple of years.

“Now I ask everybody,” she said. “If I go in somewhere to get a cup of coffee, I’m going to ask, ‘So what do you do with your leftover baked goods?’”

Murphy has been relatively successful in getting those donations, which are coming in handy as she’s expanded Sunday LOVE’s scope.

She originally started serving Sunday meals outside the Free Library on the Ben Franklin Parkway, but when construction displaced people there, she moved the operation to Love Park. Her nonjudgemental giveaways there drew national attention — Sunday LOVE was featured on Rachael Ray last year — and even when construction disrupted that location she continued her efforts at the corner of 15th and JFK.

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However, last week she decided to stop serving at Love Park (October 15 will be the last day) and direct her energies elsewhere.

“Love Park is overserved,” Murphy explained, describing how recipients of her free meals there were becoming demanding. “I would show up with a car-full of food — I only have my one car — and they would say, ‘Why don’t you bring clothing?’ When I showed up with clothing the next week, it was, ‘Why don’t you have hygiene products?’”

So Sunday LOVE is transitioning. In addition to the forthcoming free grocery store and the Sunday dinner and Monday brunch at Holy Trinity, Murphy will continue regularly feeding homeless and food insecure people in Kensington — a population that has exploded with the opioid crisis.

At first, she tried to keep her work in Kensington separate from the Sunday LOVE organization, which is a registered nonprofit with a board of directors.

“The marketing person told me funders wouldn’t want to support that, because they’re ‘drug addicts,’” Murphy said. But after a couple of months of being out on Kensington Avenue on an almost daily basis, and getting to know many of the people receiving her food there, she decided that she “felt gross” keeping this work separate.

“If I am at risk for losing funding because I think EVERYONE deserves to eat,” she wrote on Facebook, “then so be it. I will roll the dice. It feels more than disingenuous to share half of the truth of where I spend every day other than Sunday. I serve drug addicts daily and I am absolutely okay with that. In fact, I love that part of me.

“We are human beings. We are all in the same boat,” she continued. “Some of us may be falling off a little. No one deserves to drown. Let’s just extend our hands to those who need a hand up.”

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Danya Henninger

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...