By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — When Yani Williams and her husband Eugene volunteered at the Mount Olive Holy Temple’s soup kitchen on Thanksgiving Day three years ago, it lit a fire deep inside them to do more.
“We started feeding outdoors every week,” says Yani. “We’d give out sandwiches, hot dogs, all kinds of snacks, water.”
They fed people at Love Park and later at 18th and Vine Streets.
As their desire to do more and give more grew, Yani says, they needed a bigger platform.
“I told my pastor I wanted to start a foundation,” says Yani, who attends Higher Ground Church International. “He gave us his blessing, so that’s what we did.”
The Williamses started “Your AOK Foundation,” a nonprofit that serves those in need throughout North Philadelphia. She works with local churches to provide volunteers for community soup kitchens, community gardens, outdoor feeding programs, grocery and coupon distributions… and the list goes on.
“We have the veterans’ shelter,” says Williams. “We give them food every week. I help the homeless… I mean, sometimes I get calls and have to take families underground because the shelters are closed.”
AOK also takes donations for clothing, furniture, and other household items and passes them on to those in need. They’ve helped the homeless, those displaced by fires or natural disasters, as well as independent youth in need.
“We do neighborhood cleanups, we do it all,” says Williams, “but I couldn’t do anything without my volunteers. They are dedicated– they get here before I get here.”
“There are a lot of people in need out there,” notes Bishop Jeremiah Norris, pastor of Open Door Baptist Church at 16th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue. Norris’ church runs a soup kitchen and AOK provides volunteers.
“I’m so glad Yani could partner with us to do this,” Norris says. “I believe that churches have to be one of vehicles for change in the community.”
The Williamses also run youth programs, including the Perfect Praise Community Choir, as well as the Urban 215 Youth Outreach, which provides mentorship and life skills for teenagers. And everything AOK does for the community is free and based on in-kind and monetary donations.
Why does Yani Williams do it?
“I just love to see people happy,” she says. “it’s part of my makeup.”
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