After face-painting and photos with Santa, kids had the opportunity to draw and craft

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A whirlwind of cozy color and laughter lit up McPherson Square as the Kensington park and library held their first Winterfest since the pandemic began.

The event drew a crowd of over 300 people, with presents for each child who attended.

“It feels really good, like a spark of hope,” Jessica Shoffner, a 15-year neighborhood resident who was there with her 3-year-old son, told Billy Penn.

Vice president of the Kensington Neighborhood Association and operator of Hart Lane Neighborhood Farm, Shoffner was thrilled to be able to gather with others after three COVID-separated winters. “It’s definitely a big source of joy,” she said.

Kensington Neighborhood Association Vice President Jessica Shoffner with a neighbor’s daughter, Gia Credit: Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn

The push to reclaim public space in the neighborhood has been a joint effort from community residents, neighborhood leaders, city agencies, and various nonprofits.

As Kensington deals with some of the toughest crises in the city, the park, which less than a decade ago was a place parents warned their children to stay away from, is a bright spot. It now boasts a playground, and offers lunch and after-school programming for kids.

Held on Saturday, Dec. 17, the winter holiday party also featured arts and crafts, face-painting, free lunch, and soccer with the Kensington Soccer Club.

Neighborhood kids play with the Kensington Soccer Club in McPherson Square during Winterfest Credit: Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn

Many of the gifts were collected via donation boxes set up by the Department of Parks and Recreation and Philadelphia Reads donated books. Youth who came out were thrilled to receive them, but even happier that events had returned to the square.

That was evident by the happiness expressed by two girls who pretty much grew up at the library, 14-year-old Aranie and 11-year-old Sanaya.

Asked what she was most looking forward to at the fest, Sanaya had a clear answer: “I’m excited to sit on Santa’s lap.”

Kids enjoy posing with Santa, as one little boy offers him a candy cane Credit: Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn

Newly elected Councilmember Quetcy Lozada came to the event. She spoke with Teen Librarian Tuesday Chalmers, one of the party organizers, and heard many requests to help encourage progress on repairs the library building desperately needs.

Community members have started an online petition that lists many of the issues, from a compromised foundation to a leaking roof to mushrooms growing on interior walls. McPherson Square and McPherson Square Library are both on the list of sites for the city’s Rebuild initiative, but neither has been given a firm timeline for construction.

Lozada assured her constituents she has begun the process of looking into these needed repairs. She also said it’s important that community members continue to show up and contribute and support the city’s efforts.

Councilmember Quetcy Lozada speaks to Teen Librarian Tuesday Chalmers Credit: Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn

Many agencies, individuals, and nonprofits contributed to making Winterfest a success, including:

  • Dept. of Parks and Recreation
  • Free Library of Philadelphia
  • Mural Arts, John Zerbe
  • Managing Director’s Office
  • Philadelphia Opioid Response Unit
  • Chera Kowalski
  • Philly Harvest
  • Tuesday Chalmers
  • Bernette Gilmore
  • Philly Unknown
  • Neyda Rios

Scroll down to see more photos from the event.

Neighborhood residents Aranie, 14, and Sanaya, 11, enjoyed the party Credit: Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn
Kids decorate sugar cookies in the McPherson Square Library parking lot Credit: Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn
Kids play with toys brought by the Department of Parks and Recreation Credit: Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn
Councilmember Lozada inspects the artwork being created by two girls at the party Credit: Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn
A young girl poses with Santa at the party Credit: Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn
There were presents for all children who attended the McPherson Square Winterfest Credit: Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn
Teen Librarian Tuesday Chalmers gives out free books to kids Credit: Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn
A tree wears decorations behind McPherson Square Library, which community members say is badly in need of repairs Credit: Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn