Tag Archives: morningside heights

Gardening at Future Leaders Institute

9 Aug

What: weeding and garden maintenance

Where: Future Leaders Institute, Morningside Heights, with New York Cares

When: Thursday, 6-8pm

When you arrive at the address for Future Leaders Institute charter school, you’ll notice that the name above the entrance is Hans Christian Andersen Complex. Enter. You’ll meet your team leader there and head over to the gardens, where you can begin on a number of tasks. I was given some options: 1, pulling weeds in the rocks and flower bed; 2, chopping and pulling large, 5′-6′ tall weeds; or 3, discerning what is a weed and what is a not, and pulling the weed. I immediately eliminated the 3rd option, as I have no idea how to differentiate a weed from a plant. I’m pretty sure one of my house plants is actually a weed. The second option seemed like a fun challenge, but I wasn’t sure if I trusted myself with a weedwacker. So I chose the low-and-slow weeding option #1.

Though it was a small area, me and my fellow volunteers (I think there were about 7 of us in one garden) pulled those suckers for 2 hours straight and just barely finished. Even though it was hard work, it was oddly calming. There were a few pedestrians walking around, but other than that, it was a perfect, mind-numbing activity done in relative silence; I welcome things like this after a hectic day at work.  Another great thing with a project like this is that you can see the difference you’re making, literally. I posted some pictures below of the before and after; I never realized how ugly weeds are until this day. I used to love dandelions-I’m a changed woman.

At the end of 2 hours, we had made a huge dent in the work needed to get this garden looking 100% awesome and well-manicured. Luckily, it will continue to get better, since this wasn’t a one time activity; this was only the second session, & ‘Gardening at the Future Leaders Institute’ will continue to run through the school year. After the maintenance and weeding are done, the project will begin to include the students, teaching them how to garden and participate in hands-on activities. And they’re lucky-I was huffing the sweet smell of fresh rosemary and loving it. These kids have a source of fresh basil, thyme, tomatoes, and much more to look forward to.

I usually end my posts with ‘other things to know’, but I can’t take full credit for the helpful tidbits this time;  NY Cares team leader Nada gave a full description of what to wear, subway directions, even weather reports the day of the activity. So, besides my advice, which is that you should bring some bug spray, here are some other things Nada the team leader will tell you:

  • Be on time! The project is only two hours long.
  • Wear comfortable clothing that can get dirty.
  • Relax, and be kind to your back [and knees]- be sure to get up and stretch from time to time.
  • Ask if you have any questions.

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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.