B’Nai Jeshurun

March 28, 2010

Our Thursday location proved to be a fantastic way to end Team A’s service program, as the site proved to be exceptional in several ways. Gordon and I, Jess, were very excited to be going to the B’Nai Jeshurun (aka BJ) synagogue because it was located in a neighborhood of Manahattan that both of us consider a second home–the upper West side. As we rounded the corner to W 88th Gordon became excited a he recognized his cousin’s apartment, as I began to flip out when I realized the rabbi for our site was none other than my best friend at Colby’s dad–Marcelo Bronstein! In my typical style, I entered the synagogue overflowing with anticipation as I asked everyone if they knew Marcelo’s daughter Micaela. Meanwhile, the volunteers already at the site were just as excited to see how early our group had arrived. Clearly, things were off to a great start.

Each member of the group was immediately given something to do, as well as a nifty nametag. I dried dishes with Ellen as she washed them, while Larissa, Kelsey, Ten, and Gordon set to work on preparing sandwiches. Over the next several hours we were assigned new tasks as we finished them, and many of us had the chance to get to know the older, regular volunteers at the site as we jumped from one chore to another. I have to say that one of my favorite jobs entailed finishing off their leftover ice cream. 🙂

A board member named Susan arrived to give our group, in addition to another group of high schoolers, an orientation about the facility and what we would be doing come noon. Since there were so many volunteers (there had been a miscommunication about whether our group would be coming), each of us was paired with a regular BJ volunteer to help them serve. As we acted as waiters and waitresses for our guests, we got to enjoy live music and even see some of the talent possessed by the guests themselves! One man, who looked quite weather-worn from the years gone by, sidled up to the stage and put on an AMAZING performance. It is startling to think of their circumstances in light of witnessing their talents–it forces you to remember that they’re literally just like you and your peers, and no different.

When the hour was over, volunteers were quick to cleanup. I was assigned to take care of the extra bread at all the tables–bread is always in abundance at all of our sites–and to find out whether our guests wanted to take it home, or whether I should throw the baskets away (due to health regulations, anything that is put on the table of our guests cannot be reused). It was interesting to see the difference in people’s reactions from table to table. Several guests couldn’t care less about the extra bread, while several frantically tried to keep me from taking it. After all was said and done, there was still plenty of food leftover, so as most volunteers were taking their leave, our group was provided lunch in the middle of the room and we were, eventually, the last ones to depart (with a gallon of milk and a pan of bread pudding in our reusable bags, no less. The environmental movement is truly here to stay).

Some thoughts on what made this site so different from others, in addition to being more demanding and very well organized: the program had much more funding. Working in conjunction with the synagogue, it also had a solid group of regular volunteers. I connected to the people there in a different way as well, as most of the people their were familiar with Colby and had friends or relatives who had gone there (other than their rabbi’s daughter). This proved for a very different kind of connection than the one’s I made at the other sites, where people assessed you not on your connections but on your personality and work ethic.



Food in the Bank

March 27, 2010

As our week of service drew to a close, Team B found itself yet again waiting for an early morning bus in The Bronx. This time, we headed off to the Food Bank for NYC all the way in the Hunts Point neighborhood.

It took longer to get to the Food Bank than any other site. With two busses and one slight mixup, our travel time was nearly two hours. The location is way out on the edge of the borough, across the water from La Guardia in a complex of giant warehouse distribution centers. We shared busses with factory workers reporting in for their shifts. As it turns out, the Food Bank itself is basically just a giant warehouse where bulk donations are received and repackaged.

There’s also a conference room, because we were ushered in there to watch a 10-minute video introducing the Food Bank and its beneficiaries. The video, which was made to look and feel like a documentary, ended up being an extended infomercial for the Food Bank for NYC. It featured clips of happy clients picking up their food at sparkling food distribution centers, a ‘day in the life’ style piece about a working-poor elderly man named ‘Harry,’ and a montage of a woman from Trinidad taking care of her children, among other things. Bon Jovi did the soundtrack. Really.

After the video we went down to the warehouse itself, an impressive, 98,000+ square foot facility. Our task was pretty simple: Unpack a pallet of boxes containing donated canned soups, sorting them into one of two categories, soup (labeled ‘vegetable’) or protein. Once a box weighs 50 pounds, seal it, label it, and stack it behind a table. Items with hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) are to be quarantined due to a new city health ordinance. Right away, we got to work moving donated food around and taping up fresh sorted boxes. Dan pitched in by making us a big stack of new empty Food Bank for NYC boxes to use. The work was just the opposite of the previous day– straightforward, organized, and smooth.

But then there was trouble in paradise. What about chicken or beef broth? Sai pointed out (correctly) that such items could not be considered ‘vegetable.’ Yet they weren’t protein either. The same debate was sparked over chicken noodle soup, which has tiny pieces of chicken in it, making it a protein. After consulting our site coordinator, we ended up putting broth in with the ‘vegetable’ soups, and leaving those chicken noodle cans in as protein.

After that, things went well. Maddie and Alex lifted huge boxes of food. Dan, Sai, and I gave ourselves paper cuts on fresh cardboard boxes. We repackaged over 2,100 pounds of food in about two and a half hours. Our site coordinator told us that translates to roughly 2,000 meals. We left the warehouse with a clear sense of the contribution we had made, which was different from any other day of work.

Later, our group would chat about the issues this task brought up. The debates we had over food showed us how personal the things we eat can become for us. As a vegetarian, Sai was particularly reticent about adding chicken broth to a box labelled ‘vegetable.’ More importantly, we realized how the procedures of big institutions– like counting tiny chicken bits as ‘protein’– could have profoundly negative effects on people. The food we repackaged was going to other distributors who could enhance its nutritional value by adding ingredients, but a family receiving a package like that would have to deal with a really poor source of nutrients.

– Joe

An Inefficient Kitchen Teaches Unintentionally

March 26, 2010

Joe Deegan represents the cohesion in the group, but not just because he is the leader of group B. His steady stream of jokes and sarcastic comments has myself bursting with his laughter heard around block and has Sai keeling over a fence post on the Columbia University campus steps while Madison and Alex stand by watching us with large smiles on their faces thinking about how immature we were and how much fun we have together. This specific scene occurred directly after finishing volunteering, however it’s similar to many of our interaction throughout the day.  Much earlier, Sai and I woke up at 6:30 to get in a workout at a nearby outdoor gym before we all left for the Broadway Presbyterian Church around 8:15. Sai and I slept on the subway over to the church. This is typical. Finally we arrived in the heart of Manhattan in a youthful neighborhood with an Ivy League school towering over us and the unfortunate that we are there to serve.

We walked down into the basement of the church where a big guy who warned us to keep our valuables on us at all times greeted us. He then led us to kitchen were a chef gave us the run down of the operation. This was the first warning of what we were in for there. After she finished giving her spiel, the head chef came in and demonstrated how to properly cut up chicken quarters into a leg and two other pieces then gave us our own meat cleavers and a ton of chicken and let us go for it (two of us are vegetarians and none of us had butchered meat before). There were four chefs wearing outfits from various schools and restaurants including one that said the “New York Culinary Institute: Academic Director”.  Three of the chefs (not the one we originally met) and a few social workers acted in charge of us and bossed us around. Sometimes they would give contradicting orders, other times one would show us how to do something, then another would come along and show us how to do the same thing and then a third would come along. We met a really cool kid our age who recently moved here from Senegal and was training to be a chef. We talked about soccer/football together.

The way we distributed food was different as well. We each were given two tables to serve and told not to help serve the others so it wouldn’t get confusing. Everyone would be served at once, instead of people getting their food, eating and then leaving to allow others to eat as we did on previous days. We were suppose to hand out soups first, then salad, then chips and salsa, then the main course–although three at a time for a table of five—then of course the pudding. We were also told not to give out seconds.  However, when the chaos hit nothing went right. There were about ten to many volunteers, and four to many organizers. I didn’t put out half the food on my tables because the social workers had served their guests instead—which confused me greatly since that is exactly what they told us not to do.  The thought process behind the day was nice, but the practicality and on the spot organization that went into the day only caused calamity and this ended up being our worst experience of the trip. HOWEVER, it was a great learning experience. We were able to compare this day to the previous two days and see how a kitchen functions well and poorly giving us insight into how we would run a similar agency.

After working we walked around Columbia and then headed back to YSOP headquarters for a guest speaker. This speaker ran the homeless shelter at YSOP and was incredibly kind. He talked about the beginning of the homeless shelter and what they did –I think it would have been cool to volunteer at one to give us some more diversity in our work. The speech was inspiring especially after meting Leslie and some of the guests at that shelter the night before.  I still can’t believe how incredible of a person Leslie was.

We concluded our day by walking around Canal Street in china town to look at the different street side boutiques and garner souvenirs. Then we went to an apparently famous bookstore named strands. I purchased obtained another Hemingway classic that I am excited to read on the bus home. We concluded our day back in the apartment cooking rice, beef, a veggie stir fry and some salad. Overall, I enjoyed the day and learned a lot about what attributes to an inefficient volunteer system.

— Dan Goldstein

Hey Shortie, where’s your jacket at?

March 26, 2010

Its a beautiful morning.  The sun is shining, and the crisp morning air greets a group of six clad in blue.   Walking down the street past individuals or small groups of people hurriedly passing by with their gazes fixated at the ground, and through discarded cans and plastic bags, such an unfriendly sight presents a stark, ugly contrast to the glorious, serene weather.

Today, we stayed in our lovely little borough that we now call home, the Bronx.  We walked several blocks to our destination, Part Of The Solution (aka POTS), a small but surprisingly well run and all-encompassing organization that provides a wide variety of services besides a soup kitchen and food pantry, including showers and a mail service.  However, today we focused our energies and attentions specifically towards the soup kitchen.  Today was also the first day we volunteered with another group of volunteers, and I thought it was interesting.   There were a couple of sixth grade students from the local intermediate school and their mothers volunteering during their spring break.  What was interesting for me personally, was the fact that these children are growing up in the midst of all of this and don’t even think twice about it.  By ‘this’ and ‘it,’ I mean urban poverty and everything else that comes with it, including trashy, littered neighborhoods that are unsafe and act as social boundaries, making it difficult to escape.  Anyway, we spent a majority of the morning organizing and sorting their food storage, relocating cans, boxes, and bales of food from one location to another.  During this assembly line, I was pulled out for about thirty minutes to help clean the kitchen where I cleaned out the refrigerator and swept and mopped the floors.

When 11 o’clock rolled around, Larissa and Ellen served all the food while Jess, Gordon, and I delivered them and Ten bussed tables with one of the other student volunteers from the intermediate school.  On the menu was a superb entree of rice, pork and beans with hamburger mean, pork and cabbage, some variety of bread, and a pastry donated from Starbucks.  I thought it tasted pretty good, and apparently, so did the guests who came in, for very little food was wasted.

Preparing and serving food for over two hundred guests, we all worked hard and barely had a moment to spare.  On our feet all day, hustling and bustling here and there, most of us were exhausted by the end of the day, well, at least I know I was.  However, this is a good kind of exhausted because I know that I’m putting my time, energy, and efforts towards a meaningful, productive cause that is truly appreciated.

– Kelsey Naruse


My favorite moment of the day was when we first got to POTS and were led out the back doors.  We had just walked several blocks and the sun was shining, so I had taken off my sweater and put it in my bag.  One of the workers on a smoke break noticed my lack of a sweater and called out to me, “Hey Shortie, where’s your jacket at?”  I just thought this was the funniest thing ever and then it got even better when we went back inside and Diz, the lady in charge, asked me the exact same thing, “Hey Shortie, where’s your jacket at?”  Sometimes life is just funny.

La Cuisine Francaise

March 24, 2010

Des le moment quand nous sommes arrives, nous avons travaille! After improving our bus navigational skills, Team B was set to work at the Notre Dame Fraternite. Before the soup kitchen opened, we stacked boxes, took out the trash, set the tables, organized tulips, cooked on the stove and chopped vegetables and opened cans of sauce. As Matt suggested at YSOP the day before, the amount of food that comes out of this small kitchen is unbelievable. It seemed as if everyone was vital to the success of the day. Dan, Sai, Alex and Joe worked at the counter preparing trays and serving food for the continuous line of people streaming in, while Madi worked in the kitchen preparing food.

I also wanted to touch upon our group meeting at the Lorillard House. Some of us met the Fordham students who live in this house year round, in addition to Joe and Lindy, and had a discussion about volunteering. Fordham Joe talked about the difference between volunteering (throwing help over the wall) and justice (breaking down the wall). We also thought about whether those who are affected by the problem are ever included in deriving the solution. We discussed the difference between talking and acting. As one student proposed, life is all about finding a balance, even though finding the appropriate balance is a struggle. Finally, Colby Joe suggested that volunteering should be both intellectual and emotional. We listened to a song about Ella Baker, ate delicious cake, had a special dominican drink, and got a chance to talk more casually. It was a thought provoking conversation and an unique opportunity to have a serious conversation with strangers.

Finally, I thought I would mention how wonderful it was this evening to be given the chance to not only serve the homeless, but being able to talk to them as people. I had the chance to talk to Leslie who is, as he might say, “dynamite.” We talked about sports, movies, and all of his travels. Two of the things that I will take from our conversations was his comments on the weather . He said how he would never complain about the weather so long as he has the wisdom to differentiate between different precipitations. He asked why should he complain if he could not change the situation. These profound comments reinforced to me about how little I have to complain.

– Madison

Where my chocolate at?

March 24, 2010

On the first day of our service in New York, we were asked to think back to the last time we saw a homeless person and our feelings associated with seeing him or her. I recalled feeling sad, guilty, and bad for homeless people. Today, cooking for and eating dinner with a select few homeless people brought many different and unexpected emotions. The first guest who walked into our dinner was not at all the stereotypical homeless person. He arrived alone, and to be honest, I was not sure if he was someone in charge of our program or a homeless person there to be fed our lasagna dinner. He was very formal and politely shook everyone’s hands. After nearly ten more people slowly followed him in, we started leading them over to the games and making small talk to ease any awkwardness. At first I felt discouraged when I tried to talk to Pam, because as much as I tried to involve her in conversation she didn’t seem to want to talk. When a few others started to walk over to another table for a game of spades, I asked if she wanted to join but she politely refused and suggested that I go over anyway. Luckily, I had a lovely game of spades with Leo as my partner, and after losing in the practice round, we were able to pull ahead in the next round. Denyse helped me understand the game because I had never played before, and afterwards I was able to serve and eat dinner with her, Leo, and one of my spades opponents Shirley. Conversation was not at all difficult and there were hardly any divides. They were extremely friendly and seemed to enjoy conversing with us as much as we enjoyed conversing with them. It was rewarding to hear how much they loved the meal because we had made it ourselves. It was great to be able to sit with them as if they were students at our own dining hall, especially because I felt most safe and comfortable in this setting, as opposed to earlier today and yesterday when we did not know the people we were serving as well. We had spent the rest of the day packing bags with canned food, cereal, pasta, and produce to give out in a food pantry. Although we were able to help serve 200 people, we spent most of the day packing and carrying foods, and we lacked a true connection or interaction with the people we were trying to give to. Luckily, very kind Creole ladies who ran the food pantry helped us through the day. After a day of physical labor, the day ended with brownies, ice cream, great company, and a fun rap performance from our fellow group members. The day was busy and hectic, but dinner was delicious and the day was truly rewarding.

– Larissa

Tasty CHIPS from Brooklyn

March 23, 2010

Dear all,

While Gordon and Team A stayed in the East Village, Manhattan, NYC, Team B led by Joe Deegan, who may have to gone Kings College or Monroe College, went to CHIPS, a soup kitchen in Brooklyn, NYC. As Gordon has the elegant write-up, I will include just the nitty-gritty details of Team B’s experience. Thanks to the dreams in my sleep on the Brooklyn train ride, I have no recollection of the journey to CHIPS! In any case, why dont we start at the entrance of CHIPS, Brooklyn, NY.

We had a 10 minute introduction to the work at CHIPS: We are to help prepare lunches and snacks for homeless people. Now, we were broken into groups, Dan Goldstein, Alex Nichols and Madi Louis started in the kitchen: slicing vegetables, preparing fish in curry sauce,  and crying together while cutting onions. Joe and I first sorted vegetables from the Co-op, so that the chefs could specialise in their cooking up their ideas and cooking them.

Before I continue though, I pause to comment on CHIPS organisational structure. First, it is a christian faith-based organisation, and secondly, the Co-op mentioned above supplies CHIPS with a lot of fresh vegetables, fish and meat along with the other large supplies from the New York Food Bank, supermarkets and other donations from individuals and companies.

Next, Joe and I entered the dungeons of CHIPS, from which we carried back packaged canned foods and snack supplies and packaged canned foods for the next day.

This was until the clock struck 11am. From then on, we moved into serving the incoming customers with food, clearing their trash and serving them seconds, thirds and fourths…until their hearts content. As Gordon eloquently mentioned, they eat until their smile spread from ear to ear. Yet, we should not forget that even with all their problems, they still come to CHIPS chirpy and open to us, strangers. People, largely black men, came in droves from 11am to 1230pm. We closed serving hot food by 1pm. By 1pm, we moved into cleaning up the kitchen and serving the remaining customers. I cannot speak for others but I certainly learnt closing down a soup kitchen is not easy: a soup kitchen making atleast a dent in its society closes down by cleaning up today’s work and prepping for tomorrow’s work by packing up unserved food and preparing the beginnings of tomorrow’s lunch. As the friends of CHIPS know, hunger will not be “solved” with one amazing day’s work, they are here to continuously help anybody through their tough times week in and week out.

In the end, Team A and team B are still one group, so I shall end with Gordon’s resonating clarity: “Only God knows if we will see you again, but today I hope to have made a difference my friend.”

– Team B signing out: Joe Deegan, Alex Nichols, Madi Louis and yours truly, Sai Chavali

Monday, 22/03/2010

The Verse of Trinity

March 23, 2010

Took a trip to NY City, I’d like to take you to New York with me. Staying in the Bronx aka the Boogie Down, I guess you could say we were way WAY Uptown. The group, made of Colby students (plus Joe) is about to tour the Big Apple in the very front row. Many tourists come to the city, dressed up nice and hoping to look pretty. But not us-we came to get down and gritty. Our mission starts when gentrification sweeps through urbanity, and no one really planned it- see the culture and humanity are booted right out the street. Exempt of validity, corruption really hits the scene, sheltered turns to homeless and that’s unfair-you know this. So gather on the block with me and come take a walk to see this New York philosophy. Life is much more than what you see every day. People are hungry and have no money to pay, grinding for every dollar it’s all work and no play. Is there any propriety within this society? Of course- deep down you cannot hold a frown because every day is unique just like the words that I speak. To bring in sociology, people connected ontologically and like centrality essence flows back around. So send out love from your soul to reach farmlands and towns. When compassion is enacted, anger is contracted, emotions flexible like plastic. To Union Square we traveled with this mindset in place, hoping to treat the homeless to a full plate. Gloria greeted us, told us what to do-first rule we learned: don’t speak unless she tells you to. (This was taught to us by Drew). We prepared for the flux, of people from the street by putting out the rice- and next to it the meat. There was never any time to take a seat, we were busy like bees and began piling on the green peas. The line began growing- it stretched for a while. A pretty long way but not quite a mile, people came dawned in Yankee caps of all styles, saying “Thank you” with a smile as I handed out the juice. Before you knew it the seats were full and the food was being eaten, no one stayed long and soon the food was gone. Just like that, the crowd had dispersed, back out the door like they were in reverse. Only God knows if we will see you again, but today I hope to have made a difference my friend.