Not Over Until the Church Lady Sings

Eric Keiles and Tiffany Bendistis, bar manager, holding Church Ladies in front of Christ Church in a video promoting their Dogood campaign. | Photos provided

As can be determined by the neighborhood’s name, many establishments in Old City are, well, old.

And with age, the buildings in Philly’s historic district have needed repairs and changes to keep from crumbling down after 300 years.

Take, for instance, Christ Church on North American Street. Every morning when Eric Keiles takes his walk around his Old City neighborhood, he sees the steeple of the church, built in 1754, which is in need of repairs and a healthy paint job.

So, he decided to help.

He owns a few businesses across the street, which he enlisted to assist in his endeavor.

“Ben and Betsy and George and the people that used to pray there hundreds of years ago would be disappointed to see that their steeple needs a paint job, and nobody’s doing anything about it,” Keiles said. “So I just came back to my team at Silence Dogood’s Tavern and I said, ‘What can we do to help out a little bit?’ And since our name is Dogood, and one our core values is to try to help people in some way, the campaign we came up with was a way to simply chip some money into the kitty to help our neighbors paint that steeple.”

It’s Keiles’ way of doing tikkun olam — even though he admitted it is a little ironic that he is Jewish and is raising money to help fix a church.

“It’s not a religious thing, it’s a doing good thing,” he said, which he reiterated to his father, who is Israeli, when he questioned the campaign to fix a church. “And if there’s a neighbor right across the street that needs a helping hand, do we really care what religion they are or are we just going to lend a hand?”

The exterior of Silence Dogood’s at 216 Market St. | Photos provided

To help raise money for the paint job — which is only part of a $2 million renovation project the church is undergoing for the steeple, Keiles said — the team at Silence Dogood’s came up with a new drink to benefit the church, which will be available through Memorial Day.

The Church Lady is a summery drink consisting of homemade lemonade, blueberry vodka, club soda and blueberries; $1 from each $12 Church Lady sold will go toward the steeple project.

To date, Keiles said, they’ve raised more than $1,000.

So he figured it won’t cover the costs of the whole $2 million-plus project, “but I could raise some money for some paint brushes and some paints to fix it.”

The tavern held a fundraiser in April to promote the campaign and Keiles and his bar manager made a video explaining what they were doing, which created an online buzz and drew people’s attention to the project.

“Before you know it, we’ve raised over a thousand dollars to give the steeple a paint job,” he said. “So it was just a simple little idea about what we could do to help turned into a really nice event.”

The church isn’t the only project on which Keiles is focusing his attention.

The West Philadelphia native, who spent most of his years in Havertown and attended Suburban Jewish Community Center-Bnai Aaron, will next campaign to raise awareness and money for a park the city is planning to build nearby Elfreth’s Alley.  

It aligns with one of the core values of Silence Dogood’s, Keiles said, which is to promote Philadelphia.

“It’s not a Jewish or not-Jewish thing, it’s just here’s people who need help and we have the ability to do it, let’s do it,” said Keiles, who also owns the Big Red Pedal Tours and runs Square2Marketing in Conshohocken. “If [Mikveh Israel’s] cemetery needed some assistance, we would do that as well because they’re one of our neighbors and they needed help, but we’re just trying to pick the people that need the most help.”

His goals are not so lofty as to raise the full $2 million for the church, but he hopes that he will raise enough awareness that people will want to get involved and they can raise as much as they can.

“My goal is just to do a little something good that’s parallel with what we do every day,” he said. “I don’t have any goals where I’m going to be an aggressive fundraiser; I just want people to join in on this kind of fun and interesting activity and if they want to buy a Church Lady, great. And if they don’t, that’s OK, too.

“All we’re trying to do is make people aware that we have some issues in Old City, and we’re trying to fix them.” 

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