Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen

Allen’s Story

In Soup Kitchen Stories, Stories, Uncategorized, Volunteer Stories, Who on August 22, 2017 at 3:43 pm

Allen SKS

Five year volunteer Allen Arthur remembers his first day at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, shortly after Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012. Before working the tray station, he was quickly welcomed during the morning volunteer social hour. “A group of people saw me sitting alone and said ‘Come over and sit with us.’”

His motivation for coming back each week is simple; he loves being of service to others.

“I believe every time we feed somebody, they have another chance,” he says. “That meal could be the meal they have in their stomach when they go to a job interview.”

He remembers meeting one such guest while working the front door as a greeter. “He was working this job and they weren’t paying him. It was really hard, but he was interviewing for another job.” When the guest came back two weeks later, he told Allen “I got the job! I think you were my good luck charm!”

After Allen had been volunteering for a couple of years, he was asked to take on more responsibility as a volunteer coordinator. “It’s been a joy. It allows me more time to chat with volunteers and has freed me up to speak with more guests.”

Through his volunteer service, Allen finds parallels to his work as a journalist and his stories about the criminal justice system. “The people who come here aren’t just numbers, they’re stories,” he says. “And the first thing about those stories is that it’s never the stereotypical story about why they’re homeless or why they’re at a soup kitchen.”

Allen has also been one of our dedicated Fast-A-Thon fundraisers. “The Fast-At-Thon is an almost spiritual experience for me.” says Allen. “Many people walk around NYC and take for granted that we can go in and eat the thing producing that delicious smell….Imagine being confronted with all that and being totally unable to participate.”

What really sets Holy Apostles apart, Allen says, is the welcoming atmosphere and the kindness of the many dedicated volunteers.

“We’re doing this because we feel some combination of love, dedication, and obligation, some calling to this. That feeling that this place really has peoples’ backs, that’s important to me.”

John’s Story

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2017 at 1:00 pm

John's story v2

With a master’s degree in business and a bachelor’s degree in computer science, John came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic with dreams for a better future. After losing his first job in sales in Miami, Florida because he could no longer afford the required travel expenses, he had an opportunity to come to New York and stay with a friend while searching for work. Here, he thought, there would be “more jobs, resources, and better transportation.”

Sadly, when John arrived in New York, he discovered that his opportunities were still extremely limited. Though he is highly educated, he struggled to find work and had to string together several minimum wage jobs.

“I worked in a couple of factories,” he says. “I work as a math instructor, but I only get a few hours a week. I’m only making about this much a month.” He holds up a paycheck for a few hundred dollars.

To make things worse, after six months, the friend he had been living with needed the extra space back and asked John to move out. Without any savings to fall back on, and earning less than $1,000 a month, John became homeless.

“I was sleeping on trains and in parks. I would find places to shower: at the beach, in gyms, at friends’ houses,” he recalls. “I’m a Catholic and I go to mass but I was hesitant to ask for help. I didn’t want the people that I pray with to know about my situation.” Most of his friends still don’t know that he is homeless.

After three months of living on the streets, John saw the line outside of Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. “That’s when I entered this wonderful place,” he says, although it was difficult to come in for the first time. “There’s a psychological barrier to asking for help.”

But once he was able to ask for it, John got help right away from our Social Services counselors, who referred him to a nearby shelter. “I’m very grateful,” he says. “That was life-changing in itself.” When he needed to replace his clothes after contracting a rash from living on the streets, the counselors were there for him again, giving him a referral to the Salvation Army.

After finding shelter, and with clean clothes and renewed health, he then learned about Upwardly Global, an organization that helps college-educated immigrants find employment in the U.S.

“I’m updating my resume. I got a library card, I’m updating my skills,” he says, pulling a book on HTML out of his backpack. Although things are far from perfect, John is optimistic that he can improve his situation, and credits our social services program for connecting him to the help he needs.

Today, John has been called back for a second job interview with a bank. He’s optomistic about the prospect of using his business and technical skills again, and finally achieving his career dreams.

“I didn’t have the energy,” he says about looking for work while living on the street. “It was just too hard. Now I have the resources to get back on track. It’s better now, because I have hope.”

Fun City

In memoir, Prose, Uncategorized, where on April 25, 2017 at 2:12 pm

NY Street scene

NYC is a wretchedly wondrous place that can abrade the human spirit leaving nothing more than rue, misery, and existential scar tissue. You find yourself surrounded by tons of people but somehow an inveterate member of the lonely crowd.

My neighborhood changes yet retains its soiled, somewhat cosmopolitan essence. Back in the 70’s when I first entered this then-tattered urban wonderland of seemingly infinite and accessible possibility, my block and the nearby area was pretty much all mom and pop stores with the exception of a few places like Barney’s. The towers of the World Trade Center were also in pristine evidence. You could find an occasional vendor who sold hot dogs, falafel, or rice and beans. There was a pizza parlor on 8th Ave, owned and operated by a Puerto Rican family. At one point in the nineties, the laundromat below me had an actual variety show on Wednesday nights. You could see a comedian or catch a local band. There was also an occasional puppeteer or juggler. This diversity of people, activity, and optics is an example of the sort of thing that compels me to live in Manhattan despite attendant forms of adversity.

Nowadays it’s all Rite Aid, Subway, Walgreens, and Duane Reade. Back in the late 70’s an elderly gentleman dressed in cowboy drag sat on the corner of 7th Ave and 23rd Street while playing Western swing on his pedal stool guitar. Somebody told me he lived in the Chelsea Hotel, that redoubtable stronghold of bohemianism and artistic exploration.

Over the years, I’ve surveyed numerous other sights as I made my way through the neighborhood.

I saw Herbert Huncke, another Chelsea Hotel resident, on a corner near my residence. He was engaged in a heated conversation with a young woman. Despite his dissolute lifestyle he was an aging pretty boy with a wrinkled baby face.

I saw Art Pepper walking along 7th Ave. He was playing at the Vanguard that week. I noticed his paunch. I knew it was a hernia simply because I had recently read his book, Straight Life, a tragic, somewhat lurid tale about a musical career and life thwarted by the ravages of drug addiction.

Then there was Dr. John. I merely watched as he strolled by on a pleasant warm weather day with a child who was most likely his daughter. I read somewhere that he actually lived nearby. NYC makes you jaded about that sort of thing.

What about Nico sitting in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel? Like Pepper and the good Doctor she was a member of the Thomas DeQuincy fan club, a lotus eater who had difficulty foregoing her treacherous appetites.

No, I’m not judgmental; just commenting on what I see and know about what I know and see in this crepuscular nightmare we blithely refer to as life – an out-of-control chimera that initiates and then destroys hope and dreams in a painfully capricious, inexplicable manner.

Sonny was a painter who lived a few blocks down from me. He started painting after a serious motorcycle accident. Sonny was a somber yet affable working-class artist who smoked True cigarettes. I sat for Sonny in order to supplement my meager income derived from playing and teaching music. He talked incessantly while painting. Once he told me he would never allow his children to wear jeans. That sort of thing just didn’t make sense to him.

He talked about the time he visited Mexico. I did play in San Diego on a couple of occasions. On my second trip the other band members went to Tijuana while I spent the day in bed. Touring can take a lot out of you.

Joe, my next door neighbor, lost his right leg due to diabetes exacerbated by the copious, unrelenting consumption of Heaven Hill whiskey. Sometimes he would put on his artificial leg and try to walk down to the O&B on 23rd Street in order to place a bet or two. Judging from what he told me he once had a fling with one of the ladies who worked there.

There was a guy named Dennis. He was courtly, quite pleasant with everyone; when I first met him he was a handsome young man with a neatly trimmed moustache. He always said hello. I would reply in kind. Where did he live? As far as I could tell he was homeless. Often I would see him bob in and out of the liquor store on the corner.

Sleery was a tall, slender, black guy who lived across the hall from me. His girlfriend Linda was white, southern, and danced in little more than a wig and a Band-Aid in a bar on 8th Ave. Once or twice he stopped me on the street in order to converse. He knew I was a musician. He went on and on about his fondness for jazz. Once he even broke into Dizzy Gilespie’s vehicle and stole some of his wardrobe – the hallmark of a true fan.

I found myself stumbling over his unconscious body as I made my way to my room after a gig that had gone on for too long for far too little pay. Who knows? Perhaps he was his own best customer. From time to time he volunteered to provide me with samples of various substances to which he seemingly had easy access. I always declined in the most gracious manner possible.

One Sunday while I sat in my room going through my practice routine the building shook. There was a loud noise. I ran downstairs and discovered a car that had jumped the curb and gone through the front window of the hardware store beneath my apartment.

Years ago the 10th precinct station on 20th Street made a cameo appearance in a film called “Naked City.” How fitting that such an accident took place on a nearby corner.

-Bern Nix