The small rowhome sits on a corner in North Philadelphia, in the heart of one of the most impoverished zip codes on the East Coast.
A sign reading “Drug-Free Zone” has been attached to the side of a building at the start of the block. Across the street is an abandoned house with plywood on the boarded up windows. To the right, a rusted, 15-foot chained fence protects a school park. Catty-corner is a Chinese restaurant with bars on the windows and a metal shutter door.
There were 145 shooting victims and 30 homicides in the 22nd District last year — second only to the 25th District, just a few blocks over. One of the eight children living inside this home, a 6-year-old boy by the name of Jaden, is himself a survivor of a gunshot wound. He was hit in his left arm, just inches from his heart.
“He’s a miracle, right here,” Jaden’s grandmother said.
A siren cuts into the quiet. A caravan of police cars, lights flashing, surround a pair of vans that stop in front of the house. Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins pops his head out from the front passenger seat, summoning one of the officers to double check the information he has on the family. Teammates Jalen Mills, Rodney McLeod, Sidney Jones, Patrick Robinson, Jaylen Watkins and Corey Graham step out along with Jenkins a moment later, carrying gift baskets of food and presents to the doorstep.
“These gifts are for y’all for Christmas,” Jenkins said once inside the living room, addressing the kids who had gathered around. “I wanted to make sure you guys had some stuff.”
This was all part of the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation’s third annual Holiday Dinner Basket Surprise, an effort in collaboration with the Philadelphia Police Department that provides meal baskets for 140 Philadelphia families.
Jenkins and his teammates first gathered at the Police Athletic League in the Strawberry Mansion section of Philly to wrap the baskets and fill bags with toys on the children’s wish lists. The police department was in charge of identifying the families in need.
“It wasn’t an easy task, because 19133 is one of the poorest zip codes, not only in Philadelphia but maybe the East Coast, so it wasn’t easy,” said Captain Javier Rodriguez of the Philadelphia Police 25th District. “So we reached out to two elementary schools in the area and allowed them to pick the families, and we just went by their recommendation. We come across a lot of families. It’s not an easy thing to say who deserves the generosity. It’s a good thing that [Jenkins is] doing, though.”
Jenkins did something similar in the New Orleans area while with the Saints. On one occasion, he surprised a woman by delivering the gifts in person; realizing the impact that made, he decided to make it part of the experience. He and his teammates visited five Philadelphia homes in one Monday afternoon.
(Jenkins’s efforts continue in New Orleans. The foundation will conduct its Holiday Dinner Basket Surprise there on Dec. 23.)
“Between myself and my teammates, being able to go around and surprise these families in person I think means a lot,” Jenkins said, “especially around the holidays when people are stressed and trying to provide food, trying to provide toys. I know I have been blessed to never have to worry about a holiday meal, never have to worry about exchanging gifts or anything like that. So this is an opportunity for us to really give back in a meaningful way around the holidays.
“It’s humbling. You take your own environment, and where I go lay my head every day, for granted. It’s something that you get used to, but you go here and visit a kid, 6 years old, gets shot. That’s tough. So it’s an opportunity for us to do a small part in trying to bring a little bit of relief, put a smile on a family’s face around the holidays.”
Jenkins and the other members of the Eagles’ secondary in attendance signed a football and presented it to Jaden. Two of Jaden’s sisters performed a dance routine at the urging of the players. The Eagles went around a circle and introduced themselves. When they were finished, the oldest girl said, “Where’s Carson Wentz? That’s our favorite player.”
“Carson is at home, healing up,” Jenkins said with a laugh.
With that, they took a few more photos, wished the family a Merry Christmas and jumped into the vans, off to the next delivery. All of the children huddled at the door as they sped away, lights flashing.
“I liked it,” said the oldest girl, “because I had never met an Eagle before.”