In addition to serving up stellar sandwiches, the 8th Street shop is helping feed neighbors during the pandemic.
In late March, State Representative Elizabeth Fiedler’s phone rang with concerns her office had not expected. Restaurants had shuttered in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Transit had became less user-friendly, and people crowded into grocery stores. The most vulnerable constituents in her district had few options for food.
“Food insecurity has always been a problem in the 184th district,” said Fiedler. “Financial issues are a factor, but other issues surfaced that people don’t consider—issues of mobility, physical ability, and dietary restrictions, especially for seniors and caretakers. For some people, food preparation is as big an issue as access.”
During her 2016 campaign, Fiedler frequented Cosmi’s Deli (1501 8th Street) for eggplant parm sandwiches. While visiting, she got to know owner Mike Seccia. “People know Mike as part of this community. He steps up for neighbors. I called and asked if there was something we could do. He said yes without hesitation.”
8th Street Strong
Mike Seccia is magnanimous and understated. When fire destroyed several homes on the 1400 block of 8th Street near the deli in December, he provided food, coffee, and bathrooms for first responders. “Firemen were freezing outside. They didn’t have any place to warm up, and no facilities. I made them a few hoagie trays and pots of coffee and let them use the bathroom. It’s no big deal—it’s just what you do.”
What makes Philly so special. Mike Seccia owner of Cosmi’s Deli,got gas service restored&he reopened so he could run close by free fresh hot meals,heat breaks&bathroom HQ for all @PhillyFireDept @PhillyPolice & first responders @ South Philadelphia explosion site. @FOX29philly pic.twitter.com/cjozi0ZI0k
— Steve Keeley (@KeeleyFox29) December 20, 2019
In the era of COVID-19, Seccia referred to Cosmi’s as essential, therefore fortunate. “The news changes every day,” he said. “Nobody knows what to do. It scares people. My parents were facilitators. They were giving. Plenty of people helped me out along the way, so I’m always looking to give back.”
In eight weeks, Cosmi’s transitioned from a dine-in sandwich shop to a sanitized, curbside, non-contact operation. “We’re lucky,” says Seccia. “We’ve stayed afloat, and we’re trying to make a positive out of a negative. There are people with a lot of strikes against them right now—people who can’t take care of themselves with everything closed. We want to be 8th Street Strong.”
Teaming with Fiedler was inevitable. Every week or two, Seccia makes easy-to-reheat low-prep meals that Fiedler then delivers. “Last week we made chicken parm with spaghetti and some sides,” said Seccia. “People are so appreciative. Their families have called us from out-of-town to thank us for helping their relatives.”
“We don’t do it for fame or promotion,” he continued. “I think most good people would never close their doors when things like this happen.”
Fiedler and her team are preparing to go out again this Wednesday. “I don’t know the menu,” she said, “but one of Mike’s sandwiches always carried me for two meals.”
“We try to give people a little extra,” said Seccia. “It’s nice when people can have leftovers and can make another meal or two from what we give them.”
Seccia also hopes Cosmi’s can help his community with necessities during the pandemic. His goal is to help routine customers make fewer trips to larger, more crowded stores. “Grocery shopping has turned into an Olympic sport, and this way we can keep people out of harm. We’re selling stuff we never have before. If you need cheesesteak, fries, and a roll of toilet paper, we can help. You can order it on our website.”
“I hope to do a t-shirt fundraiser soon,” he added. When asked if proceeds would help subsidize his charitable activities he said, “no – there are people in the neighborhood going through loss and they could use the money. It’s a simple way to help.”