Archive | December, 2009

Delivering Meals with Coalition for the Homeless

9 Dec

What: Delivering meals to the homeless and hungry

Where: Traveling by van throughout Manhattan, through New York Cares

When: Saturdays and Sundays (with New York Cares), 6:45pm-10pm

Last Saturday I helped deliver meals with Coalition for the Homeless who, according to their website, “Each night, a fleet of vans delivers life-saving meals of hearty stew, bread, fresh fruit, and juice or 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.”

You’ll meet up with the other volunteers and 3 vans outside of a church in Murray Hill. After everyone checks in, you’ll be assigned a route (there are three, hence the three vans) and be on your way to Upper Manhattan, Downtown, or the Bronx. There are designated stops along each route, which have been in place for years, ensuring that those who need to eat will know where to go, simply because the Coalition will always be there, in the same place at relatively the same time, every day of the week.

I was in the Downtown Van, which made 7 stops: 35th St. under FDR Drive, Housing Court/Chinatown @ Lafayette & Leonard St., Staten Island Ferry, Sunshine Hotel/Bowery Mission, 6th Ave. bet. Washington & Waverly Pl., Madison Square Park, and last was Penn Station/KMart. The vans will usually have 3-5 volunteers, including an experienced driver. The first thing we had to do once we got on our way was to begin opening plastic bags, to save time for later when we were to hand them out.

At every stop, each volunteer has a specific responsibility and everything is done quickly-its basically an assembly line. The clients (people waiting for food), will line up and receive a plastic bag from a volunteer, as two more volunteers open the back doors of the van and open boxes of food. Each night the meal will vary; last week we had oranges, milk, juice, turkey sandwiches and mustard. Clients will walk up to the van, bags open, and volunteers will simply put everything inside for them. Some people were very specific about what they wanted: one person told me I was crazy if I thought he wanted a milk carton in his bag, and to place it in his hand. Silly me, I guess. Other people will take everything, and then swap or give away the things they don’t want to other people in line; it’s interesting to see an entire community of people, so downtrodden, helping each other more than most people in NYC with a house to sleep in. But I digress…

A few things about the Chinatown stop, which I was told in advance to allay any panic: there are usually about 100-150 people at this stop, separated into two lines, men and women. This is not a requirement of the Coalition, it’s just something that happens only in Chinatown. This group is also very pushy and most of them do not speak any English, so things get very tense. Be prepared. For some reason, the night I volunteered there was only one line, which we later assumed was done in an attempt to confuse us. Or maybe they just didn’t feel like making two lines-I have no idea. Regardless, because there were so many people with heavy coats and hats and gloves, some got back into line and claimed they never got food, demanding a bag, and we were unable to tell who was who. It got a little hectic as we tried to determine who had already received food, relying mainly on the volunteer who had handed out the bags. Everything got resolved after about 10 minutes, and most clients left happy except for 1 very old, very fragile woman, who refused to leave without a second bag. We were back in the van pulling away, as she began banging on the side of the van with her cane, yelling in Chinese. My feelings are that if you’re that desperate for food, 80+ years old employing your cane as a weapon, you probably really need it. We all agreed and the head volunteer got out and gave her more.

As I’ve probably said before, the projects I most enjoy doing are those which involve direct contact with people, as it allows you to see the difference you’re making. It feels really good. I also got to talk briefly with some of the clients; one who gave me a quick history of a nearby church dating back to the 1700’s, and another who hands out his own plastic bags before the van gets there, as a way of saying thank you. Other things to know:

  • Don’t be afraid to hold your ground to anyone being aggressive, attempting to get more food or cutting the line. They know the rules, you know the rules. Eventually they will leave or follow instructions.
  • Dress for the weather! It’s December right now-drinking hot cocoa with the heat pumping in the van is not only not an option, it’s a slap in the face to the people waiting for food who may be sleeping outside that night. So don’t forget your scarf, and get out there..
  • Don’t wear gloves, unless they’re the latex kind. Its inevitable that something will be leaking and getting everything else wet, be it milk or juice. Utilize the hand sanitizer after each stop that is available in the van, or bring your own.
  • No one can get seconds until everyone on line gets firsts, if there is even enough. Check with the head volunteer if you’re unsure; they will be able to determine if there is enough food in the van for the remaining stops and clients.
  • Coalition for the Homeless has four other programs that depend on volunteers, in addition to the Grand Central Food Program: Camp Homeward Bound, the Development Department, First Step , and the Advocacy Department. Click here to read more about these opportunities and contact information to sign up.

‘Tis the Season to Volunteer

1 Dec

As part of the first ever “NYC Bloggers Do the Holidays,” Give & Get will be your ultimate guide to volunteering in NYC during the holiday season. At the end of this post you’ll find a list of 12 other dedicated New York blogs participating. Read them all, and you’ll have all your bases covered when it comes to this holiday season in NYC…

If you’re looking to give back to NYC this holiday season, you’ve come to the right place. From volunteering your time to donating presents, I’ve got you covered. There are endless opportunities available in this city, and this guide should provide a way to get you started…

For Santa’s…

  • An easy way to give back during the holiday season is, well, to give. Today (December 1st) starts Operation Santa in NYC, which is a program run by the US Postal Service. Each year, thousands of needy children write letters to Santa, asking for things that their families cannot afford to buy them, from video games and toys to warm clothing and diapers for their siblings. Operation Santa allows people to answer these children’s letters and send them the gifts that they would have otherwise gone without. You can head to the James A. Farley Building on 8th Avenue to pick up a letter between now and Christmas Eve.
  • New York Cares runs a ‘Winter Wishes‘ program, which is similar to Operation Santa, but they also allow team giving which enables you and your coworkers or friends to fulfill a TON of wishes (individuals can take up to 20 letters, teams can take a lot more). They screen over 32,000 letters from children, teens, and families living in New York City.

There are also many places in the city that have holiday parties and drives, where you can donate gifts and celebrate at the same time! Here are just a few:

  • Toy Drive at the Village Pourhouse : On December 8th, head to the Village Pourhouse with a new toy to donate and you’ll receive a drink on the house! You can get details and RSVP with OneBrick, who is hosting the event. UPDATED 12/1/10: This years toy drive will take place on Tuesday, December 14th-same place, same deal!
  • UJA Federation of NY has some great opportunities listed for holiday giving, including a Holiday Gift Bag Delivery on December 16th at the JASA center (Jewish Association for Services for the Aged) in Chelsea. They need volunteers to organize drives for supplies to put inside the gift bags (in advance), and you can help deliver the gifts to homebound seniors that night. On December 20th, you can help throw a Chanukah party at Selfhelp (organization for Holocaust Survivors) in Pelham Parkway, Bronx. Go to the UJA website for all the details and contact info: Go to site>>
  • Inner-City Scholarship Fund is having a Christmas Party on December 12th, thrown by their junior committee for the kids in grades 1-3. There will be ornament decorating, card-making stations and other activities for kids to participate in. Volunteers who wish to sign up should email with “Christmas Party” in the subject line, and you’ll receive more details as the event approaches.

For Santa’s Little Helpers…

The holiday season is a great time to introduce your kids to the world of volunteering. At a time when they are being showered with gifts and love, it’s nice to take some time to explain that not all children are able to enjoy the holidays. Some activities you can do with your little ones that don’t take a lot of time, can go a long way in showing them that they can help other people have a better  holiday:

  • Your children can spend some time making ‘Happy Holidays’ cards, that you can drop off at a local senior center or organization that visits homebound seniors, hospitals, or other places where people may be lonely and need some cheering up. It’s a fun, inexpensive project you can do together.
  • When you go shopping for gifts, allow your child to pick out one gift to give to someone else. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and it will make them feel good knowing that another kid will get the awesome gift they picked out (see above for places to donate toys..)
  • Check out Mommy Poppins post “Holiday Charity and Volunteering with Kids in NYC” for more kid-friendly ideas.

For Rudolph’s…

Rudolph helped lead Santa’s sleigh through the night, and you can lead your own volunteer project just like him. Organizing a drive to collect goods is a great way to give back without having to spend money. Always remember to call ahead to any place you intend to donate to make sure they can take your collection!

  • Hold a food drive in your office, apartment building, or local community center (for do’s and don’ts of collection, see my previous post about coat drives). You can use the NYC Coalition Against Hunger website to locate a food pantry or soup kitchen by zip code. (this is also a great resource for finding volunteer opportunities nearby).
  • Start a coat drive; it’s easy and helps clear space in your closet-a win-win I think. You can donate to a local church or synagogue, shelters, Goodwill or Salvation Army store, OR, you can get in on New York Cares Annual Coat Drive action by hosting a drive yourself and then delivering your coats to their Manhattan warehouse. New York Cares will provide you with flyers and posters for your drive, or if you choose to donate elsewhere, you can download flyers here from me.
  • Brooklyn Based had a great post about giving back in Brooklyn, from volunteering time to donating goods. Check out the “Causes We Can Believe In” post.

For Elves…

One of the best ways to give back is to give your time to someone else. A few hours volunteering costs nothing but time, and it means a lot to the people you’re giving it to. I’ve mentioned a few places already that have special holiday volunteer events, but there are endless opportunities in NYC to give back all year round. Here are just a few organizations that make it really easy to find a project. Feel free to look at some of my previous posts to read about specific projects I’ve done.

  • New York Cares is the most well-known volunteer organization in NYC, and for good reason. According to their website, more than 48,000 people volunteer year after year, giving their time to over 400,000 disadvantaged New Yorkers. After a short orientation, you can choose from hundreds of projects to participate in. Go to their website for more information. At the very least, New York Cares website can be used to give you an idea of what is available.
  • Street Project has a limited group of opportunities, making it less overwhelming if you have a hard time deciding what type of activity you want to do, and besides setting up your account, there isn’t much you have to do before signing up for your first project.
  • NYC Service allows you to search for different activities by borough, area of interest, and level of priority; there are a lot of opportunities for people with special skills such as accountants, artists, grant writers, etc.
  • One Brick has various “commitment-free volunteering” opportunities listed by day, and most projects occur after regular work hours, enabling busy professionals to volunteer during the week or on weekends.

Just Give…

Got stuff to get rid of? If its in good condition, you can probably donate it; from cell phones to bed linens to pet supplies. Here are some links to help find a place to donate near you:


If you are an organization that has holiday volunteering projects you’d like to share, post them below in the comment box!


NYC Bloggers Do the Holidays

Click on each of these links to read from great blogs, for and by New Yorkers. Read them all and you’ll be an NYC Holiday expert in no time…

Brooklyn Based: Home for the Holidays

the improvised life: unwrapping the holidays

Manhattan User’s Guide: The Gift Guide

Patell & Waterman’s History of New York: A little history with your holidays

The Strong Buzz: Holiday Eats Old and New

WFMU’s Beware of the Blog: Happy Freakin’ Holidays Playlist

If you have a NYC blog or website and would like to participate in a future group post, email me at