PHILADELPHIA - Early every morning, as the Reading Terminal Market comes to life, and folks find their spots at tables in the center court, Terez Giuliana looks for her regulars. The ones for whom the market isn’t just a food court or a grocery, but a shelter.
There’s John Silvetti, whom Giuliana calls her “paisan,” who makes his bed in the tunnel outside the convention center and spends mornings at a table by Beiler’s bakery. There’s Richard, who has Tourette’s syndrome and whose tics make it difficult for him to spend the night in shelters. He passes his days at a table by the center court statue of Philbert the Pig.
There’s Lynn with the beautiful hazel eyes, who carries her belongings in a suitcase and chats with Giuliana about tea, faith and food. There’s Michael, who hovers patiently near anyone who sits in his favorite seat.
Bit by bit, breakfast by breakfast, coffee by coffee, Giuliana has worked to build trust in her regulars, in the hope of getting them better shelter than the market can provide. Since April, she’s been a Project HOME outreach worker whose sole territory is the terminal — a first for both organizations. Every morning, she patrols the aisles between the fancy cheese shops, the butchers, the bakeries and the poultry stalls, weaving around the lines at the cheesesteak joints, searching for faces in the crowd who seem as if they need help.
“Hi, I’m Teresa,” she’ll say. “I work here at the market. I’m here to help people with anything they might need.”
Last spring, vendors started noticing more and more homeless people frequenting the market, said Anuj Gupta, the Terminal’s general manager. But they wanted to help people, not kick them out.
“What we need to be doing before we talk about how it affects our business,” said Elizabeth Halen, owner of Flying Monkey Bakery and president of the Market Merchants Association, “is talk about why there are people here who are hungry and who don’t have homes.”
So in April they reached out to Project HOME and got Giuliana, a 63-year-old retiree. She says the work is simply what she’s supposed to do. To bring a little hope in the face of despair.
And to get to do it in the terminal, her jewel of the city, is Giuliana’s dream job. In labor with her daughter 29 years ago, she envisioned herself strolling the market’s fruit aisles when her doctor told her to think of a happy place.
Now she strolls those aisles looking for the people she’s working so hard to reach. She and another ambassador of hope, Nicole Johnson, have helped 30 people get into shelters and housing. And they’ve built relationships with hundreds more.
“It’s been a blessing — she’s an angel,” said Frank Nardo, the market’s head of security. “They’ve helped us open up a line of communication with the homeless. They’ve helped us build a lot of bridges and that has eased the pressure tremendously.”
Recently, there was another small victory: a woman who sat in the center court, her prescription bottles before her. Giuliana had spent days trying to connect with her, but the woman only ever flipped her off.
Today, she offered her name: Evelyn. And she asked for Giuliana’s number, in case she ever needed her.
“Progress,” Giuliana whispered, walking away. “Dear God, please.”