November 21, 2011

Feeding the Growing Numbers of NYC Hungry at Thanksgiving

Some West Villagers may know Earl, the gray-bearded African-American man who wears a baseball cap and can often be spotted sitting in his wheelchair on Eighth Avenue in front of Jane Street garden’s chain-link fence. He’s the guy who shakes his large Styrofoam cup filled with coins (and the occasional one- or five-dollar bill) as he hums softly.

Earl used to be a toll booth worker at the Lincoln Tunnel. He’s also diabetic. Although he lives in New Jersey, he’s adopted this particular spot on Eighth Avenue as his own. He’s been pulling double shifts lately, he told me, for two reasons. One, he wants to get out while it’s still warm enough to do so, and, two, he’s trying to collect enough money to buy a Thanksgiving turkey. His biggest donation of all time, he says, came when another black man, a neighborhood resident he’s friendly with, came by one day and dropped a fifty-dollar bill in his cup.

At The Church of the Village
Photo by Martine Mallary
There are about 1.5 million New Yorkers who, like Earl, struggle to put food on the table, according to the food rescue agency City Harvest. That’s up by half a million since 2009, when I wrote this article about one New York City chef who is a regular donor to City Harvest. According to a post today on DNAinfo, the heavy increase in demand for emergency food assistance  (City Harvest puts the growth at 25 percent since 2008) coupled with budget cutbacks has led to the closing of some food pantries and rescue agencies. Others have been unable to feed all the hungry who come to them.

Daisy's Emergency Pantry goods
Photo by Martine Mallary

Here in the West Village, the Church of the Village on Seventh Avenue and West 13th Street just finished a $2 million renovation and the addition of a commercial-grade kitchen to better serve its clients. During the renovation, says Pastor Sara Giron-Ortiz, the church launched Daisy’s Food Pantry, which hands out bags of groceries to the needy every Tuesday from 1 to 3 p.m.  through its Hope for our Neighbors in Need program. Last week, says the pastor, the pantry served over 170 individuals and families.

The need is great, the resources shrinking.
Photo by Martine Mallery
The Church of the Village will sponsor a Thanksgiving community meal Saturday, November 27th in the Baruch House public housing development at 12 Avenue D. Those wishing to volunteer or donate a turkey or ham may contact Pastor Giron-Ortiz at The church’s Web site also accepts Paypal donations.

The church, led by Bishop Alfred Johnson, is the result of a 2005 merger of three United Methodist churches in the Village, Washington Square, Metropolitan-Duane, and Church of All Nations, and is housed in the former Metropolitan-Duane United Methodist Church.

If you’d like to volunteer in your neighborhood to help feed the hungry, take a look at The New York City Coalition Again Hunger’s Volunteer Matching Center. Another source of information is Time Out New York, which offers this guide to all kinds of Thanksgiving volunteering. Not enough time? Besides City Harvest, here are a few more organizations that provide dinners for the needy: Food Bank for New York City, Greenwich Village’s St. Joseph’s Soup Kitchen, and Chelsea’s Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen.

November 18, 2011

Scenes from Occupy Wall Street

Just a week ago, this was the scene at Occupy Wall Street in Lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park.. A block away, the financial world went about its business as usual. The park itself was a sleepy collection of tents and people milling about or chatting with each other. The encampment had the feel of an alternative adult sleep-away camp, with posters for the day's meeting agenda ("This week's Occupy: Edmonton"), a makeshift kitchen, composting area, and various interest groups. There were ninety-nine percenters, student loan agitators and anti-war advocates, all peacefully co-existing in this United Nations of protest groups. There was an unmanned booth for empathy and meditation training at one end of the square. On the other, a Lego artist had created the scene in miniature in "Occupy Lego Land." 

Yesterday, on my way to the 9/11 Memorial entrance on Thames Street, I walked by after police and security forces cleared out the park. Television trucks with giant sattelite antennae lined Liberty Street but, there was nothing to film except for a folk singer and a few die-hard protestors.

Here are a few scenes of  Zuccotti Park shortly before the tent city was taken down.