Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Anonymous East Village restaurant owners continue to feed those in need of a meal
Text and photos by Stacie Joy
In mid-April, I learned about an East Village family who owns a restaurant, and decided to make meals for people in need around the neighborhood. (You can revisit the post here.)
I was invited back to help and document their efforts during the COVID-19 crisis. At their closed-to-the-public restaurant one recent day, I watched the owners, a married couple, making food boxes for 60 homeless and hungry neighbors.
The meal plan is pan-roasted rosemary chicken, mixed roasted vegetables, fruit salad and a croissant. Pineapple juice, cookies, plastic cutlery, socks and face masks accompany the boxed meal. (Pads and tampons are also available for those who need them.)
This is a team effort: the funds were donated by East Villagers following the publication of the story, the face masks were made and donated by local artist Tine Kindermann, the shopping, prepping and serving of the food by the restauranteur couple. I’m documenting it all, from the shopping at Costco and Jetro, a restaurant supply store, to the cooking and plating.
We load up the couple’s car and head out to feed people on the street. There isn't any shortage of people in need of a meal, and I'm touched by their appreciation of the boxed meals.
After we distribute the last meal, the couple talks about their volunteer work and the reaction to it.
The response to the story about your family’s project of making home-cooked meals and care packages to feed our vulnerable homeless neighbors was overwhelming. How did that reaction impact you?
The feeling of community and camaraderie was truly gratifying. The original point of doing this was just to get food in the belly of hungry people. Putting it on a neighborhood news site for public consumption took it a step further. I am grateful that it brought the plight of the homeless in our neighborhood out into the open so we can talk about it.
A lot of East Villagers subsequently wrote in asking if they could donate to your project, and all told, raised about $1,000. How did you decide what to do with the funds?
Honestly, it was a little overwhelming! We figured if people were inspired enough to donate money out of their own pocket, we should just continue with the same idea.
This is the second time you have attempted this project. What changed from your initial distribution? What worked, what didn’t and what changes might you make for the next round?
Last time we made 24 meals, this time we made 60, which, of course, took a lot longer. We need to work on our efficiency and time management for the next project. We will still make home-cooked meals with fresh ingredients; as this is by far what excites those receiving the meals the most.
One change we would like to make, based on the feedback, is to prepare something that can be more easily split/saved. So if they would like to stretch it into two meals it will hold up nicely.
Can you speak a bit about what the experience was like for you both? Not just the prepping and planning, but the actual delivery of the meals and care packages?
Seeing people in dire need of something as basic as food is highly distressing, and their gratitude takes it to a whole other level for my husband and I. It’s a very humbling experience. Once the person you’re approaching realizes that you are not a threat, but are there to help them...that you actually see them, their guard drops. They often smile and their whole mood changes.
We also noticed that passersby acknowledged what we were doing by saying "thank you" and "God bless." Hopefully having fewer people outside has revealed a problem that we all already knew was there, but has been easy to ignore. It’s not as easy to ignore anymore, and maybe that’s a good thing.
Did anything surprise you? What do you want people to know about the experience?
Encountering so many people in good spirits in the midst of such hardship is always a wonder.
But really? The hard truth is that I am constantly surprised — and disheartened — at the human condition around us. People within arm’s reach with no food, no shelter, no health care, no bathrooms, no dignity... it’s disgraceful. The person that affected me the most on this day was a young man, probably around 20 years old. It was raining, and people were mostly off to the side somewhere, trying to stay dry. They would stay in the shadows until they saw that we were handing out food, and then come out.
He, like the others, started to walk over with his hand outstretched. As he approached, he repeatedly asked if we knew where there was a bathroom. He was visibly upset and was saying "They took the Porta-Potties out of the park, nobody will let me use their bathroom, everything is closed, there is no place to go!" To rob someone of the dignity of access to a bathroom is cruel. It’s dehumanizing. It broke my heart that we had no answer for him.
With their permission, I’d like to note our neighbors who donated to this effort. Ralph Westerhoff, Christine Debany, Esther Kim, Claire Malloy, Danielle Piendak, Jaimie Pham, Julie Irwin, Marissa Briggs, Kate Angus, Joanna Kuflik and Rebekah L. A few requested anonymity, but all have our gratitude.
The couple later set up a third meal distribution, which I'll share in an upcoming post.