Bringing Food to Those in Need
BY PATRICK BUTLER
As she prepared peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the cafeteria of St. Philip Neri School one recent Tuesday evening, Indra Joseph reflected on what brought her there.
"I saw that these people needed help, and they were not getting it," Joseph said of the homeless and hungry she encountered on the streets of Manhattan. "We need to help these people, because the government is not doing anything for them."
St. Philip Neri parishioner John Kelly calls these folks in need the "forgotten people." But they haven't been forgotten by him and many other members of the Bedford Park church.
In 1995, Jim Maistre, along with several other parishioners, decided to get together every Tuesday night in the school cafeteria and bring food down to Manhattan.
"It started as a program to bring the community together," Maistre said. "Tuesdays nights were open nights, and so people would drop off what they could." In those early days, the group would only go to Penn Station giving away the food and clothes they collected. Soon after they started, they would hear about other places in the city where the homeless and hungry gathered. And so their outreach mission expanded to the Citicorp building, Madison Square Park, and the Port Authority, where, Maistre said, there are nearly 30 to 35 people sleeping out front.
Donations from parishioners and local businesses are plentiful, Maistre said. "Money comes in every week faithfully to buy bread and items that cannot be donated. And we get volunteers from all over."
Volunteers bring in food and clothes, prepare sandwiches, or offer to drive (usually there are four carloads of people headed downtown).
One of those volunteers is eighth grader Leslie Ann Medina. "I feel good helping people out," she said. "I usually don't appreciate a lot that I have."
And local artist Barbara Korman said that while she never asks why people are in the place they are in, "they offer a ton of information. I can only guess at why people are homeless," she said. "But I enjoy seeing them, no matter how they live." The experience of helping people has become a part of who she is. "It's my habit to give," she said.
"They look forward to us," said longtime volunteer Pat Murray. "They even know what time we show up."
A homeless vet named Frank, sitting on one of the benches that surround Madison Square Park, said that he was very appreciative of the service that the St. Philip's group provides. "I love you," he said as the crews passed sandwiches and donuts. "Thank you for everything."
Ed. note: To volunteer with the St. Philip Neri homeless outreach program, call James at 914- 969-0990
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