Tag Archives: church

Breakfast at St. John the Divine

20 Jul

What: Serving breakfast to homeless and hungry

Where: St. John the Divine, Morningside Heights, through New York Cares

When: Sunday, 9-11am

I had never been to St. John the Divine before this Sunday, and was shocked when I arrived at the address and saw an enormous, beautifully ornate cathedral in the middle of Morningside Heights. I arrived right on time, and the kitchen was already bustling with volunteers and church staff, so be prepared to dive right in (after washing your hands and putting on an apron, hairnet and gloves, of course). Some people were doling out bowls of fruit cocktail, others were cutting bread. My task was to pour cans of orange juice into a big jug, ice it down, and then fill up cups. Obviously this wasn’t brain surgery; it was, however, the perfect job for an early Sunday morning after a very late Saturday night. While some people were finishing the breakfast preparations, others were  starting on lunch, which is served at 12:30pm, and making take-away brown bag meals for later.

While filling up the juice, a regular volunteer gave me a few tips about the people who come for breakfast; some of them are HIV positive, others may be sick with a flu. It’s important to remember to keep everything covered; after filling a tray of juice cups, I had to stack another tray of juice on top. This way, if someone sneezes or coughs into the juice, at least the entire supply isnt contaminated, just one tray. If you’re given the job of serving the bread, feel around with your hand before breakfast starts to see which breads are soft; some people can’t chew hard or crusty breads because they have no teeth, or what’s left of them aren’t in great shape. Also, know which bread has raisins: it’s a hot ticket item. Unfortunately, a lot of them have illnesses that go untreated, because they don’t have access to healthcare or money for a medication they may need. This particular morning, a man fainted while we were getting ready to serve. They gave him some juice and a cold compress until the ambulance arrived; a lot of people said that he probably had diabetes but didn’t know, and had a drop in blood sugar that caused him to faint. Maybe he was just hungry, or the heat got to him. I’ll probably never know.

As breakfast starts, tables are called up to the buffet line one at a time and everyone is served before anyone is called up for seconds. This morning the menu consisted of scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausage, assorted breads and bagels with jam and butter, hot oatmeal, and fruit cocktail. Not too shabby. It made me want to reconsider my own breakfast choices, which usually consists of Cheerios or a buttered roll from the coffee guy on the corner. After everyone is done eating, you’ll help break down the buffet stations and clean some dishes. A Sunday morning well spent, and I was in Sheep’s Meadow with my copy of New York Magazine before noon. Other things to know:

-Try to arrive a little early, before things start to get hectic. Wear sneakers-you’ll be in a kitchen.

-St. John the Divine has a rich history dating back to the nineteenth century, and has been host to many important services and performances, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Duke Ellington to the Big Apple Circus. You may want to take a peak inside the church itself after you’re done volunteering; it’s pretty spectacular. I posted some not-so-good iPhone pictures below.

– My New York Cares team leader, Debbie, was really accomodating and allowed me to sign in for a volunteer day that was already full online. She, along with the entire staff and fellow volunteers, are extremely helpful and friendly, so don’t hesitate to ask questions.

-Your patrons may ask for more than they are supposed to get,or try to barter more of their favorites onto their plate (ie-“How about instead of eggs, I get 6 sausages instead of 2?”). This isn’t allowed, as there is a certain amount of food that is supposed to feed everyone. Kindly tell them no. And Don’t Feel Bad; everyone who is there knows the rules.

-Hungry? A Seinfeld fan? Head over to 112th and Broadway (the cathedral is on 111th and Amsterdam), and check out Tom’s Restaurant, the iconic diner from Seinfeld. The sign is the same, but the inside has undergone major remodeling since the show. But don’t get too excited-it’s just a diner, not Le Bernardin.

Monday Night Hospitality

1 Apr

What: A meal service program

Where: All Souls Church (Upper East Side), through New York Cares

When: Monday night, 6:30-8:45 pm

This was my first time volunteering in NYC as a part of this website, and it was a great experience. When you first arrive at All Souls Church, there is an office just inside to your left; you can tell the person sitting in there that you’re with New York Cares, and they’ll tell you where to go next. You’ll be given a brief orientation in a room off the main dining area, and then volunteers will be split into groups of 4 or 5 people which will each be given a color. When entering the dining room, you’ll see tables set up (tablecloths, ‘church china’, flowers and all) labeled by color and number, and upwards of 200 hungry people. Things get hectic really fast. At first I froze; some people were holding up their bowls asking for soup, some people yelled, others waited patiently. I just got in line for soup, took my pitcher, and began doling out portions to people sitting at my tables. Two hours fly by, and you’ll end the night breaking down tables and drying dishes. Other things you should know:

  • There are roughly 30 meal service volunteers, plus maybe 15 more in the kitchen. Not everyone is from New York Cares, so feel free to talk to other people and see where they come from and what they’re about while you wait for dinner to start.
  • Wear comfortable shoes; you’ll be on your feet the entire time.
  • No one gets seconds until everyone get firsts (including people waiting outside for a seat to free up). People will ask if they can be the first person you give seconds to (since they may eventually run out of food); this isn’t a good agreement to make, as it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to keep the promise. Just say ‘I’ll do my best’ and move on.
  • Don’t worry about having experience waiting on tables; no one is judging you.
  • Stick to your section! But if you do mess up and serve someone from another group/color, the worst that you’ve done is given someone extra food. Don’t sweat it.
  • If you get confused, just ask a fellow volunteer or your group leader what to do. Everyone is there to help others, including you.
  • Everything is very regimented and organized. Just go with the flow and you’ll be fine.