Every night in New York City, 1.4 million New Yorkers rely on emergency food. And 1 in 5 of these folks seek food at a Robin Hood funded program.
Last night, one of my co-workers Laura, her boyfriend Sam, Matt and I had the opportunity to help provide meals to approximately 350-400 of these folks. As volunteer for with the Coalition for the Homeless outreach program, we were witness to the unbelievable work that is done every night of the year by this group.
Coalition for the Homeless is the nation;s oldest advocacy and direct service organization helping homeless men, women and children. They are dedicated to the principle that affordable housing, sufficient food, and the chance to work for a living wage are fundamental rights in a civilized society. For nearly three decades they developed and implemented humane, cost-effective strategies to end mass homelessness in New York City.
Since homeless men and women who live rough on city streets are the most isolated and hardest to reach, they are at tremendous risk of malnutrition. The Coalition’s Grand Central Food Program, a mobile soup kitchen that stops at 31 sites throughout Manhattan and the Bronx every night of the year, meets this challenge head on. Unlike a traditional soup kitchen, volunteers brings the food to where street homeless people live – even amidst the harshest weather, black-outs, and other obstacles. For many homeless New Yorkers, this nightly meal is their only meal of the day.
Each night, a fleet of vans delivers soup, bread, fresh fruit, and milk to approximately 1,000 people. During the past year, the Grand Central Food Program served more than 365,000 meals to homeless and hungry New Yorkers. In addition to providing meals, the Grand Central Food Program distributes clothing, blankets, sleeping bags and personal hygiene items such as toiletries and underwear.
The Grand Central Food Program also offers street homeless people a sense of community and emotional support to help them move “beyond the soup kitchen” to greater self-sufficiency. Each night the staff of Coalition works to gain the trust of the individuals receiving the means and aim to guide them to other life changing services such as psychiatric treatment, medical treatment, substance abuse treatment, or shelter and vital benefits offered by the Coalition and partner.
Seeing the lines of people at each of the seven stops our van made was shocking. There were anywhere between 30 and 150 individuals who waited patiently inline to received their meal. We handed out a small carton of milk, a piece of bread, an orange and a styrofoam container of soup to each person in line. While the majority of the individuals were men, we saw a handful of children who had come out with a parent. The smiles on their faces were the same smiles on the kids who you see riding the subways, playing in the park, and who used to fill the halls of the school I worked in. To these kids, this was just another meal.
But what struck me more than the children and even more than the lines of people, were the attitudes of the adults we were helping. Nearly every person looked me in the eye, told me how grateful they were for our help and expressed sincere gratitude. When I looked at the “meal” that we were providing – something that would neither appeal to me, nor fill me up, I started to understand a little bit more about their world. Not knowing where your next meal would come from is one of the scariest things to me. And to make matters worse, many of these people have families that they are unable to provide for. It is truly heartbreaking.
Last night made me appreciate my life a little more. I would like to give a big thank you to the Coalition for the Homeless for all of the amazing poverty-fighting work that they are doing.
If you would like to volunteer with the Grand Central Food program, let me know. That is certainly not the last time I participate. And if you want to do something, but you don’t live in New York City, consider donating to their school supplies drive. I know that I miss the annual trip that my sister, my mom and I would take to Staples to buy markers, pens, and folders. Click here for more information.