At Our Service: South Philly Heroes Honored with East Passyunk Ave. Holiday Display

Unexpected Philadelphia continues its holiday-season windows tradition by honoring non-medical essential workers.

Since 2013, Dave Christopher and Kate Mellina have been decorating the windows of their home at the corner of East Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street, across from the Singing Fountain, with photos of neighbors and merchants each holiday season. The display has won them local acclaim for their promotion of camaraderie and gratitude. The smiling faces have also added to the ambiance of exploring East Passyunk Avenue.

In a year ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s fitting that the couple has taken the lead in chronicling a few heroes who have made the year more manageable. Since Thanksgiving Eve, the husband-and-wife duo have honored 27 individuals through their window display, giving a nod to non-medical essential workers for their diligence and delightful natures. Those included make their living on and around the Avenue as operations staffers, public services workers, SEPTA and sanitation employees, firefighters, police officers, restaurant personnel, and retail shop overseers.

“Simply put, they’re benefiting our lives each time they do their jobs, and they’re doing so under added stress,” Mellina said of the commended individuals. “So, it’s been a small gesture on our parts to celebrate their sacrifices.”

Photos of Heather, a server at Cantina Los Caballitos, and Jesus who delivers takeout orders from P’unk Burger. Credit: Unexpected Philadelphia.

“Times are really rough for these people,” proclaimed Mellina who is familiar with those depicted through their presence in the neighborhood. She hopes that passersby will find inspiration from the subjects’ bios, which appear on a sign near their corner door, and give thanks to them for keeping life going as smoothly as possible under our collective circumstances.

More information about the heroes can be found on the couple’s Unexpected Philadelphia blog. Since 2015  the website has paid homage to “some of the most creative people and spaces in South Philadelphia and the city beyond.” The couple have documented artists’ homes and studios and explored “everything from iconic neon signs to legendary shops.” They’ve also included the bios of some of those depicted in the holiday display.

Read the two-part installment on this year’s display:

Shane Boutot. Credit: Unexpected Philadelphia.

So what’s it like to be featured in a window?

“I hadn’t known about the windows,” said Shane Boutot, one of the proud participants. “Knowing now what Kate and Dave have done over the years, I’m honored that they picked me.”

The area resident works as a server at Bing Bing Dim Sum, 1648 E. Passyunk Ave., and has waited on Mellina and Christopher. His affable attitude secured his inclusion in the display. The year has definitely been challenging for him and his peers, so joining the other people adds another element of distinction to a personal journey that includes five consecutive years of sobriety.

“We’re all just trying to make a difference in people’s lives,” Boutot said. “I like the sense of community around here, and I think what Kate and Dave are doing adds to that in a big way.”


But wait, there’s (potentially) more!

If space were not an issue, Mellina said there are hundreds of other folks who could have received recognition for their efforts. The heroes selected by Mellina and Christopher will have their moment to shine each day from 4:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. through January 10. Mellina hinted that a sequel might be in the works since decorating their windows is not exclusively a holiday-season treat.