“I eat from the garbage cans. McDonalds throws out a lot,” said Joseph McCore, 52. McCore eats in St.Paul Apostle’s “Fish&Loaves Soup Kitchen” when it opens every Tuesday and Thursday at 11:30am.
Different types of people come out to volunteer in the soup kitchen, according to Kathleen McGarth, 83, a long time volunteer. “Young executives from wall street, young people from offices, and retired professionals.” Her favorite volunteers, she said, were John Jay students. “I gave everybody (the students) a job, and they are really hardworking.”
John Jay students that volunteer are usually sent from Community Outreach. “Representatives also work there in order to fulfill their AmeriCorps hours,” said Ashley Current, Coordinator of Community Outreach. “We not only send volunteers, we also gave them canned foods.” Programs such as Hunger buffet (2009 and 2010) and others have raised donations for the church’s soup kitchen.
Not everyone being served in the soup kitchen is homeless or in dire need of food. George Bahna, 59 years old, for example, is not homeless and has a home and family that he can go to. He is a retired toll collector. The reason he said that he comes to eat there is because it is “very convenient, you don’t have to cook and don’t have to clean.”
McGarth herself is a retired waitress and has been volunteering for over thirty years. People that came to eat when I was there was always over sixty. There are six tables each with 10 seats and still the place becomes overcrowded, with little space and even less food toward the end of the service. Sometimes when seconds are called there is hardly enough food and there are newcomers coming through the front door waiting for their chance to eat.
Going to volunteer is simple, only a couple of doors down from North Hall is the soup kitchen. Ring the doorbell and tell the secretary at the desk that you are there to volunteer. The secretary will direct you to the soup kitchen. It opens from 9am for people who want to volunteer.
McGarth helps organize the soup kitchen and assigns volunteers their jobs. A volunteer job could be anything from sorting one type of bread from another, cleaning dishes, throwing out trash, and anything else that is necessary for the service.
I volunteered April 14, throughout spring break, and April 28. Volunteers are outfitted with a cap and apron that both have a fish and loaf designed on it. On the first day after donning my uniform I helped lay out utensils for the people that would come and eat at 11:30am.
On April 19 I sorted bread, put rolls of bread into one bag, hero bread in another, and bagels in another. On April 21, I cleaned out the refrigerators in the kitchen on the lower level. On April 28th I laid out desserts for the service, did the same thing with the rolls of bread, and helped transport food from whole foods to the church.
During service a volunteer could be serving refreshments, fish, chicken, rolls of bread, sandwiches, salad, and of course soup. Some days like my first day, I served refreshments such as coffee and tea. On other days I gave out bags of food for the people to take home. The church gets donations from Whole Foods and church parishioners.
McCore is currently homeless and right now this is the only reliable source of food. On other days he finds ways to survive. “I eat in Chinatown, you can eat there for a dollar. Not that bad, better than nothing.” Other times he eats out of the trash.
McCore was never on illegal drugs. Alcohol is the reason he is homeless. He used to work in a kitchen storage room in charge of the alcohol. From there he started drinking. Then he would use a majority of his salary to buy more alcohol. He became an alcoholic. “That’s why I’m on the street,” McCore said.
He eventually went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and then to rehab. He has been sober for over15 years. He appreciates the Soup Kitchen for what it is providing for him. “I’m glad that we have a soup kitchen.”
People volunteer at the soup kitchen for different reasons. “This is where I feel most at home. I want to be with real people,” said McGarth. She also said that after service, “you feel very fulfilled, and you feel tired but it is a nice tired.”