Archive for December, 2014

On the day before Thanksgiving, I was privileged, along with 10 of my WS+B colleagues, to spend a few hours volunteering at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen (HASK)[1] located in the heart of the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.  Although the guests received nutritious, balanced meals, and in many cases, new blankets to take with them to wherever they would be sleeping that night, we were the ones who benefited most.  Academically, we knew all about homeless people, how many of them are mentally ill or on drugs or just down on their luck.  We knew that the homeless have been more or less visible at various times over the past couple of decades depending on the policies of the administration in power in City Hall.  We knew how easy it is to pass these folks by on the street, avoiding eye contact at all costs.  pic

What we did not know was how grateful these folks would be for a meal or a little acknowledgement of their existence.  What we did not know was how many of the folks who end up at soup kitchens are not necessarily homeless or even jobless, but just don’t have enough to stretch a dollar to get a decent meal.  What we did not know was how the line of people would just keep coming and coming.  That day, in fact, the total number of meals served was around 700, actually down from a high of 1,200.  On average, HASK serves about 1,000 guests a day.

By showing up about 5 minutes late, I think I drew the short straw from my group – I ended up with “outside door duty.”  The best analogy is to the Walmart “greeter” – my job that day was to greet the guests, control traffic flow, and make sure that they left all large containers (shopping baskets, suitcases, etc.) outside rather than take up precious space in the dining room.  What a day it was – cold and raw with a constant wintery mix of rain, sleet, and snow coming down all day.  What do you say to a person coming to a soup kitchen for a midday meal on the day before Thanksgiving – “Happy Thanksgiving?”  Maybe make some small talk about the lousy weather?  I thought either would be a bit insensitive, so I simply used a generic “good morning.”  But that did not stop some of the guests from wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving!  Or commenting on the weather!  One guest even told me that any day that she is alive is a good day.  Of course, some did not acknowledge my greeting and one or two were hostile, but the vast majority of the guests were polite, accommodating, and grateful.

One day out of the year.  Is it enough?  People have to eat the other 364 days.  We do not delude ourselves to think that this will solve any problems, but it does serve to educate us about a basic human need that is right under our noses but often hidden from view.  If this experience causes any of the participants to learn more, do more, volunteer more or donate more, then it will have been well worth the effort.

[1] The operation of HASK is impressive to see and, as a human services organization, its mission is both basic and noble: “The mission of Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, a non-sectarian program of the Church of the Holy Apostles of the Episcopal Church, is to feed the hungry, to seek justice for the homeless, and to counsel and provide a sense of hope and opportunity to those in need. In addition to the food program, we offer a social services center, writers workshop, exercise classes, discussion groups and computer classes.” HASK is highly rated in participant reviews gathered by Guide Star and is accredited by the Better Business Bureau meeting all 20 standards for charity accountability.

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