By Despina Kartson
"We don't have a place to sleep tonight but you put a smile on my face because you gave me a good meal." This is one of the comments we heard Thursday night as we served 115 meals to our guests on 33rd Street in Manhattan during our "soup run". Our food provides a bit of sustenance, our conversations provide a bit of compassion and comfort.
The balmy weather brought out many of our regular guests and many others who were in need. We served in our usual spot and also walked around the block looking for additional hungry souls as we were not able to go into Penn Station. It's a humbling and sweet experience to walk up to a lonely, destitute person sitting on the sidewalk or in a wheelchair and offer them a meal and a cup of coffee. They smile, thank us and seem quite surprised by the gesture. We talked with Leslie who asked, "What's the remedy for a broken heart"? We were happy to see Charmaine again but concerned that she was not doing well and seemed to have taken a step backward. Telling her that God may be disappointed with her but would always love her seemed to be a bit of a sobering comment. A woman we approached on the street who looked to be in need said she lost her home after she became a victim of identity theft. A group sitting in an area off 33rd Street accepted our food and we were happy to give an extra meal to the pregnant wife of one of the men. Pregnant and homeless - can you imagine?
The variety of individuals we meet with stories that touch and surprise never seem to end. A Spanish-speaking freelance set designer is homeless because he hasn't worked in a while and can't afford a home. As we spoke with him, in our limited Spanish and with a friend interpreting, he kept looking at us in amazement as he never expected to be offered a warm meal and a warm conversation on the street. He said, "I am a Christian but sometimes I lose my faith". The wooden cross that Fr. Patrick asked us to give to someone who needed it found it's home with this quiet and gentle man. We left him saying Vaya con Dios, knowing that the cross would give him strength.
As we reflect on the monthly experience of our soup run, we continue to be humbled by the dignity of those we have come to know. Our friend Luther, who is finally living in an apartment, insisted on giving us $20 because we provided him with some household items and drove him to his apartment with a trunk full of goods. We tried to refuse the donation but he wouldn't let us. So the $20 will be used to purchase additional items for our next soup run!
In addition to the meal of chili, rice, granola bars and oranges, we distributed numerous toiletry kits, socks, underwear and men's and women's clothing. The Philoptochos homeless outreach mission is made possible through the amazingly generous donations and contributions of our New Rochelle parish community. Monthly soup run sponsorships, including this month which was sponsored by David Kerwick and Despina Hatziergati, clothing donations, special donations by Minos Samoladas, and the sharing of time and talents by our many volunteers provide the ongoing ability to serve the overwhelming number of hungry and homeless in New York. Your contributions and participation are always welcome. Please join us on Thursday, March 30th.