Lillian Marrero Branch Free Library of Philadelphia
601 West Lehigh Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19133-2228
(6th St. & Lehigh Ave.)
Stephanie Bujak, Library Coordinator;
Tania Maria Rios, Community Organizer
The Lillian Marrero Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia has been recognized as a Zone of Peace by the Religious Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia. The library is doing many things which address the root causes of violence in an exemplary way. It is committed to being an “outward facing” institution, meeting the needs of the community it serves. It is located in Fairhill, the neighborhood that has the highest poverty rate in Philadelphia. Also, Fairhill is the hub of the Puerto Rican community in the city, which attracted 2,000 refugees who fled Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. The library is where refugees and disaffected community members find a place to belong, people who care, and programs that make their lives better and their future brighter.
The library provides wide ranging programming: youth programming such as dance, homework assistance, gardening, reading, STEM activities, yoga and mindfulness. Adults are served through classes in English as a Second Language and Spanish literacy, exercise programming, and a women’s empowerment group. Cooperation with Providence Center and other community programs increases the programs available. The library staff receives requests for food and shelter on a daily basis. They do their best to respond, growing food in their own gardens, cooperating with Philabundance, offering free summer lunches and snacks for students. The library meets as many short term needs as possible and works with FEMA and other agencies, helping the refugees apply for more substantial relief. One said, “The library doesn’t refer refugees to other agencies, it accompanies them….”
The stresses facing Fairhill’s long-time residents and recent arrivals are statistically related to violence against women, domestic violence, and violence against others. The library is creative and tenacious in its commitment to reducing violence, and it is making a significant difference in a community that faces enormous challenges.