A woman in a faded floral dress sorts through a reck of baby clothes as her 2-year-old daughter tugs at her feet. An elderly man examines day-old pastries and drops a box of doughnuts in a shopping bag. Nearby, a volunteer unpacks boxes of donated food.
So begins a typical morning at Penn House, 1035 Pa., a not-for-profit cooperative organization for low-income families.
For 22 years, Penn House has served as a distribution point for donated clothing, food, housewares, medical items, school supplies and furniture.
Rent and utility assistance, government food commodities, counseling and referral services are also available for those in need. All items and services are free.
``OUR GOAL is to get people to help themselves," Linda Lassen, assistant director, said.
One way of doing this is by encouraging clients to become involved in the work of the organization.
Lassen and Bessie Nichols, Penn House director, allow clients to volunteer for daily chores and responsibilities at Penn House. The clients feel they are helping others while improving their own situation. By helping, their self-esteem is improved, Nichols said.
Lassen, who has been with Penn House for more than 20 years, said her own experience of being poor gave her insight into the needs of those seeking assistance. ``We can relate to our clients because we have been there ourselves,'' she said.
ALTHOUGH cooperative effort and self-esteem are Penn House's strength, community donations make it possible.
Donations of clothing, household items, canned goods and furniture are always needed. Children's items are especially welcome, Nichols said.
Every Christmas, Penn House and other community agencies take applications for a family adoption program. Applicants make a list of needed items and lists are matched with individual families, churches, groups or anyone else who wants to participate.
Donors purchase gifts, food or clothing, however much they can afford to give, and items are distributed to the applicants, Nichols said.
``We generally don't have problems getting someone to donate items if we tell them what we need,'' Lassen said.
HOWEVER, one thing always in short supply is money. Funding for Penn House comes primarily through the United Way. This year's allocation is $49,000, Nichols said.
Money goes for medical supplies for Penn House's three full-time and three part-time employees.
``With more money, we could help more people,'' Nichols said, ``but you have to have a caring system. We're not a business, we're a family.''