There are worse places to be homeless, cold and hungry than New York. While it’s true that the City has thousands of homeless, we also have hundreds of soup kitchens and shelters. On the coldest of nights the Department of Homeless Services sends out vans seeking homeless on the streets and offering to take them to a shelter. A surprising number refuse assistance preferring to spend nights on subway platforms, in Penn Station or the Port Authority.
However, on a cold February night, a hot meal can be very inviting. Every Saturday night, Holy Trinity Church on the Upper East Side feeds anywhere from 100 to 150 homeless or near homeless men and women a delicious hot meal. I’m not a member of this congregation but I admire their commitment to the neighborhood so much that I try to support their programs. I’ve been to a couple of their fund-raisers and today I volunteered to work in the soup kitchen. You can learn more about all that they do at https://www.facebook.com/groups/542527365780030/ which is the Holy Trinity Neighborhood Center Facebook page.
This is the second time I’ve done this and it is quite an experience. I wonder who and how many people does it take just to organize such an undertaking? Where does the all the food come from? How do these volunteers know how to prepare and cook for so many people? Where do all the volunteers come from? Today there were many high school kids working with a couple of their mothers. I just strolled over and announced I was here to help.
My first task was to cut up loaves of bread and fill bread baskets. Thankfully, the church has reached out to local merchants such as Eli’s Bread which is located nearby. Eli Zabar makes great bread and apparently donates a LOT of bread. Even after filling 18 baskets, there were many loaves left over. Then I helped set the tables. There were 17 tables set for six people each. I folded napkins and some of the kids put them out along with the silverware. I couldn’t help myself – I told one of the girls that the folded edge of the napkin had to be facing the dish and that the knives should have the serrated edge facing the plate. I think they thought I was a bit OCD – of course they’re right BUT I also think that there is no reason not to have the table set properly.
The people who come to eat are treated with great respect by everyone and in return we are rewarded with many sincere “thank-you’s” and compliments about the food. The men and women who come are not all homeless but all are in need. Tonight, because it was so cold out, many of them kept their coats on, some shed three and four layers of sweaters and jackets.
This evening the meal was shredded chicken breast served over rice and with fresh broccoli, carrots, onions and red peppers in a light soy sauce. Many of the volunteers are regulars and they set about cooking the chicken breasts, steaming the vegetables…things just kept humming along.
Dinner was served around 5:15 and there is a huge core regular “guests”. I can’t remember when I last volunteered but it was many months ago and I recognized several of the diners. As soon as they sat down, they dove into the bread and we poured coffee. I noted how many only wanted a half a cup – because they fill the rest of the cup with half and half and at least 5 people asked me if I could find real sugar; They didn’t want the Sweet and Low. Along with their plate of food which is served to each person, dessert was also served. Chocolate cheese cakes and mini cupcakes and since Valentine’s Day is coming up, each place setting had a York peppermint heart and a Dove chocolate heart.
The cold actually kept people away or perhaps they were ensconced in some shelter for the night because we served slightly less than 100 people and had a lot of food left over. Seconds were offered and the line was long. Some of the men and women had containers with them and they stashed away bread, butter, food and dessert. I watched men put bread in their pockets. The people who come to Holy Trinity on a Saturday night are very appreciative of the meal and the work that goes into serving them. Everyone was very polite and said thank you even when you just refilled their coffee cup.
We made up 12 plates, a basket of bread and desserts for the twelve people who are registered and allowed to spend the night in church basement. Holy Trinity is such an integral part of the community! Every Tuesday afternoon, they feed the elderly in the neighborhood a lovely lunch. All are welcome, no questions are asked and the occasion provides much-needed socialization for some in the neighborhood who don’t get out much and don’t have family watching over them.
I’m so glad I went this evening; It helps me put my life in perspective. I went because I made a commitment to myself that this year I would: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” Actually that quote from John Wesley was posted by my friend Dave Liston who is very involved with Holy Trinity’s Neighborhood Center programs. I read it and it just got to me. I’m trying anyway!