Elaine Gast FawcettPutting Food in the Mouths of Others: Family Philanthropists Feed the Homeless

By: Elaine Gast Fawcett In: 2011 Family Philanthropy Conference

25 Jan 2011

I have to admit: There’s something about it being 5 degrees outside that makes me feel, well, less than charitable. But this wasn’t the case for the 11 family philanthropists who dedicated one of their nights in New York to service.

On the same day they had dined on an exquisite slow-food lunch prepared by Chef Renato Piredda, conference members braved the frigid night to give something back to the men, women, and children living on the streets. Bundled-up participants loaded onto buses and vans to join the New York Coalition for the Homeless Grand Central Food Program on one of its nightly rides. Volunteers divided up into three groups to make 31 stops along three routes throughout Manhattan and the Bronx. They stopped at designated street corners, churches, hospitals, and bus stations, delivering hot cups of soup to lines of homeless people waiting patiently.

Grand Central does this same ride every night of the year—harshest weather included—delivering lifesaving meals of hearty stew, bread, fresh fruit, and juice or milk to about 1,000 people. For homeless New Yorkers, this nightly meal is the one thing they can depend on. For some, it’s the only meal of their day.

Native New Yorker Jeremy Burton, vice president of Jewish Funds for Justice and member of the Council’s conference planning committee, organized this service opportunity—the first of its kind offered at a Council conference. This wasn’t Burton’s first time working with Grand Central. Last spring, he organized a series of seven volunteer nights with local philanthropists—taking trustees, funders, and partners on this same ride.

On his trips out with Grand Central, including last night, Burton has seen people in line who are homeless, as well many in work uniforms who simply can’t afford their next meal. “These are the working poor. For laborers and those making minimum wage, it’s just not enough to get by,” he said. There are often more people in line at the end of the month, when their money has run out.

On this Monday night, like others, the scene at the food drop-off points was polite and decent. “It’s a very human experience,” Burton said. “You give someone food, look them in the eye, and shake their hand. It’s as dignified an experience as possible.”

Burton said it’s important to raise consciousness around homelessness, and that each of us can help on a local level. He cited programs in New York like City Harvest, which collects the leftover food from restaurants every night and distributes it to the hungry. “If all the leftover food in any given city or town was donated, collected and distributed in an efficient way, we could make a huge dent on feeding the homeless,” Burton said.

It could be up to all of us, as consumers and philanthropists, to do our part for those who have less. This might be something as simple as approaching restaurants in our neighborhood, letting them know we are holding them to that level of social responsibility.

“It’s really easy to ignore the homeless. It’s easy to miss it,” Burton said. “But we have the capacity to feed everyone in America decent, nutritious food. It’s the choices we make at every level in society—including where we shop and dine—that make a difference.”

In your own community, what is something you can do to feed the hungry? What good examples do you know of local programs and services? What local businesses might you be in touch with to become partners in the solution? Let us hear from you.

Elaine Gast Fawcett is a writer and communications consultant with Four Winds Writing. Follow her online: blog or Twitter: 4WindsWriting.

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