Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen

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Wendy’s Story: Remembering the Fire

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2017 at 2:09 pm
Wendy

Wendy Shepherd

The Great Fire of 1990

It was Monday in Holy Week, April 9, 1990. I had been working at Holy Apostles for two years. It was a lovely early spring day and I was busy preparing the Easter bulletins. Around 4 PM the doorbell rang and someone said that they saw smoke coming from our newly installed slate roof. Workmen were up on the 28th Street side of the building working with an acetylene torch. I called down to our then Operations Manager, Scott Wing, who said he would go and check it out. There had been an earlier issue, but the workmen told Scott that they had stopped the small area that had sparked. Reassured that all would be well, and feeling a bit beleaguered from preparing materials for Holy Week services, we left the office for the evening.

After I left, someone passing by the 28th Street side of the building reported in to the folks at worship: “Hey you better leave your building is on fire!” They evacuated the service and the AA meeting in the mission house and the alarms to the Fire Department were called in. The fire had reignited under the area where our organ sits today. I’ve seen picture of folks standing outside watching the flames eat away at the roof.

I did not find out about the fire until about 9 PM that night on the evening news when the newscaster stated that a Chelsea Church had burned. Uh-oh, I thought. Could it be Holy Apostles? Why yes, that was the picture I saw come up on the screen. Ten minutes later our Director of Administration, Father David Norgard, called, asking staff to come in the next day.

I arrived in the morning and was shocked to see a gaping hole in the side of the church. So many of the priceless stained glass windows had been damaged, including both of the rose windows. One of the windows in my office had been broken.

It was cold in the office. We worked without electricity – but Con Edison was on site to get us powered back up. The Salvation Army donated some food to use to operate the soup kitchen. We got partial power to the building restored by the afternoon – enough to serve our guests. Many folks dropped by to express their condolences over the fire. One person brought us flowers. The night of the fire, someone in the Penn South Houses next door had offered to provide shelter for some of our vestments, which were rescued before the smoke or water could damage them.

That afternoon, Father Bill Greenlaw corralled the staff and told us that, yes the fire was bad and we’d lost a lot, but the vestry was resolved, as were the parishioners, that we would rebuild and resume worshiping fully at Holy Apostles, as well as continue the work of the soup kitchen. By Wednesday we had full power in the building – thank you Con Edison!

Four years later on Saturday, April 23, 1994, with a procession from our temporary home at the General Theological Seminary led by Bishop Grein up Ninth Avenue, the Church of the Holy Apostles returned to worship at 296 Ninth Avenue. During the restoration planning meetings it had been decided that we would redesign the interior without reinstalling the church pews to create a more flexible worship space and a dining room for our soup kitchen guests. The soup kitchen began using its glorious new dining room in May of 1994. We also had a lovely reception in late May for the fire fighters who helped to save our building.

Restoring the Stained Glass Windows

Raymond Clagnan (formerly of Rambusch Studios – an eminent stained glass studio) came to work for Holy Apostles during our restoration. His workshop was located in the choir loft. Ray, Nancy Howell, Bruce Gutelius and one intern, Dana Legg, were tasked with putting together the jigsaw puzzle of glass shards left after the fire. They did an exemplary job of restoring the many church windows, matching stained glass in some of the shards tiny indeed. They also fashioned the windows in our narthex – one of the best recycling projects ever, using all of the pieces that could not be fitted into the restored windows to create the new ones.

Soup Kitchen Window PaneRay’s father, Bruno Clagnan, came by to visit his son and our in-house “glass shop” and liked the work we were doing for the hungry guests who come to our door every weekday. Bruno was also a stained-glass designer and gifted us with an original design, honoring not only the work of the soup kitchen, but also the craftsmen and women who helped to restore our fire-damaged church. The window was installed shortly after the restoration was complete and opened as the dining space for our guests. You’ll notice that there is no end date on the stained glass – that is because we continue to serve today, and have only ceased operation in the event of a shelter order from the city of New York.

 

–As told by Wendy Shepherd, Senior Administrator

 

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Anthony’s Story

In Guest stories, Keeping hope alive, Soup Kitchen Stories, Stories, The worst of times, Uncategorized on October 10, 2017 at 5:21 pm

Anthony2

Soup Kitchen Guest Anthony was born in South Carolina but came to New York with his family as a child. One of seventeen children, his home life was troubled from an early age. “I came from a dysfunctional family: alcohol, drugs, prostitution,” he says. “When I got a little bit older, I took that on too. I first sold drugs when I was nine years old. Then I started cutting school.”

Anthony was eventually taken away from his parents and lived in various group homes and with different foster care families. Having no family or stable living situation, he turned to drug use to cope with his sadness, confusion and fear. By the time he was 18 he had become homeless, living on the streets of Midtown, and was addicted to drugs.

“I was bouncing back and forth between detox, using drugs, and sleeping on the streets,” he recalls. It was during this time that he first found Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, and started visiting every day to eat. Though he wasn’t yet ready to accept the help that he needed, those meals helped keep him alive until he could find the strength to make a change.

Sadly, it would take a long time before Anthony would make a full recovery. Just as he left the foster care system, and now an adult, he spiraled even further, ending up in prison for 15 years. By that point Anthony had become a father himself, but he had no contact with his children. After completing his sentence he was released with no support system in place, he quickly returned to homelessness and drug use.

His turning point came in 2012, when a little girl gave him a dollar. She said that her mother had told her to give it to him because he was “a bum.”

“I had enough money to buy drugs that night, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it,” he remembers. He had always refused help from homeless outreach workers, preferring to stay on the street and continue to use drugs, but that night, when their van pulled up and they offered to take him to shelter, he got in.

“It was 6 degrees below zero when they picked me up,” he says. “I had no shoes. I hadn’t showered in five months. I was embarrassed.” When he got to the shelter he was greeted at the front door and offered something to eat. He told them all he wanted was to take a shower.

“I stayed in that shower for over an hour,” he remembers. “When I came out, I looked like a raisin.”

That long, hot shower was Anthony’s first step toward accepting help and turning his life around. He went through detox and stayed clean this time, then moved on to get his own apartment in a supportive housing unit, which he shares with his two dogs that once lived with him on the streets. Now he is even reunited with his children, after many years with no contact.

“It took a long time to build up their trust because they all thought I would go back to using drugs,” he says. “It started with just conversations here and there. Now they’re always coming over to my apartment.”

Today, the soup kitchen is a place where Anthony can find a meal, but it’s also more than that. “God knows I’m grateful,” he says.  “I come here to stay grateful.” After years of homelessness and time spent in prison, the soup kitchen is a reminder of how far he’s come, and that there is some stability in the world, a place that didn’t give up him, where he can find community and kindness.

“I have people depending on me now. My kids trust me. I trust me, and that’s the most important thing.”

In Memoriam: Bern Nix

In Uncategorized on September 6, 2017 at 4:32 pm

Bern Nix on Guitar
Image from Wikipedia Commons

It is with much sadness that we  learned about the passing of our friend and fellow writer, Bern Nix, who died May 31st, 2017 at the age of 69.  Bern first started writing with us during  the Fall of 2015 after seeing a flyer about our Writers’ Workshop in the Chelsea neighborhood. He quickly became one of our valued “regulars” through the Fall and Spring sessions thereafter, adding his thoughtful wisdom to our discussions, and his insightful essays to our anthology and blog. 

As humble as he was wise, Bern wrote about his life in music from a perspective that belied his notoriety as a jazz guitarist. He was, we would have to learn through independent research, well-known for his contributions to the avant-garde harmolodics style, and had once been lauded as a top ten jazz guitarist by Down Beat magazine. 

Much like the improvisational music he played, his writing unfolded through ethereal commentary, punctuated by wry humor and clear imagery. His art – in whichever genre –  was an authentic and unique gift. 

Here is a piece by Bern that slides effortlessly through several topics and ideas while clinging to a central theme. It was first published on this blog in 2016:

The Discreet Banquet of the Comfortable Class

Bern Nix

Seeing the picture of the banquet table generates a mixture of associations. Someone once said life is a banquet and many poor suckers are starving. That’s not an exact quote, but I’m certain you get the general idea. Food can be about sustenance, community, or abstinence. Often those hazard a career in the arts find themselves unwittingly playing the role of hungry artist. Frequently it is more about famine than feasting. One gig may pay exceedingly well. The next may pay virtually nothing at all. If you’re doing well you may have the luxury of the incestuous elite. It also allow for an awareness of how certain life choices lead one down a road that is far afield from what many consider to be “normal” or mainstream.

Sharing a meal with others can have outcomes that vary. How many holiday family get-togethers degenerate into combat? Hidden rivalry, resentment, and misunderstanding come to the fore. Asking someone to pass the salt can easily turn into an act of war.

When I was quite young, I spent hours in the library reading. Everyone said that would-be writers should read. I read and always enjoyed reading. One of the first things I read by Kafka was A Hunger Artist. The metaphorical aspect of this story contains much having to do with the hazards of artistic life. At least that is the notion in a painfully real and vivid manner. Of course there is humor inherent in the darkest aspect of it all. A person who starves to death professionally can have a laugh or two from time to time. Maybe a professional hunger artist’s life is the ultimate punch line delivered by the ultimate sick comedian.

Hunger has many aspects. There’s the physical hunger for food, the metaphysical hunger for something that palliates the ineffable dread that characterizes even the most smug, secure existence; the kind of existence that allows for one to sup in elegant places.

___

For full obituary and more information about Bern Nix, click on this link:

http://wbgo.org/post/bern-nix-guitarist-steeped-ornette-colemans-harmolodic-language-dies-69#stream/0

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.”

Markus’s Story

In Guest stories, Soup Kitchen Stories, Stories, Uncategorized on July 10, 2017 at 5:48 pm

Markus soup kitchen storiesAspiring substance abuse counselor Markus first came to the soup kitchen a year ago after moving to New York from Rhode Island. He had just been accepted into an NYC program that provides housing assistance and other government benefits to people living with HIV and AIDS. But with no financial safety net to fall back on, and limited support through the program, Markus soon realized he was not able to afford to buy food and was struggling to provide for his needs.

“I had no food or health care,” he says. “I was emancipated from my family and had no social network to support me.”

One day while walking down 9th Avenue he saw a line of people stretching down the sidewalk in front of the soup kitchen and decided to go inside.

For Markus, the soup kitchen has provided more than just a daily meal. As a full time-student, the haircut and clothing vouchers help him look nice and well-groomed for class, and he enjoys the company of the “fabulous staff” and volunteers. A recovering addict, it has also provided a positive environment that motivates him to stay clean.

“The soup kitchen helped me when no one else could help me,” Markus says. “It has shown me true compassion.”

Today, Markus, who just turned 30, is optimistic about his future. He has his own small apartment in the Bronx and is only three months away from finishing his certification to become a Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor.

“A lot of my family has substance abuse issues,” says Markus, “and drug use is how I became HIV positive. I want to help others like myself.” He also hopes to start volunteering at the soup kitchen soon.

“I owe a lot to this place,” he says. “That’s why I keep coming back. This place has given me hope.”

Maurice’s Story

In Guest stories, Keeping hope alive, Soup Kitchen Stories on June 6, 2017 at 1:25 pm

Maurice story graphic

Maurice was homeless and living with HIV when he first came to the soup kitchen back in 2007. He learned about it from a friend at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a nearby HIV/AIDS prevention and advocacy organization. Maurice, who just turned 52, says the soup kitchen played a role in helping him get his health under control.

“It gave me structure during the daytime, and a place to have nutritious meals. Having HIV requires good nutrition,” he says. His HIV has now been undetectable for seven years.

Thanks to our social services counselors, who helped him acquire a City ID Card and referrals for other services, Maurice is now no longer homeless and lives in an apartment, funded by the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA).

“I’ve always been very involved in the community,” says Maurice, who currently serves on the HIV Planning Council, a coalition of people living with HIV/AIDS, caregivers, government representatives, and other community members.

For Maurice, the community aspect of the soup kitchen is just as important as the healthy meals he gets here.  “I like it because I’m really social. I’m extroverted. I talk to all the people at the tables, tell them to enjoy their meals,” he says. “The volunteers are very hospitable, too. It’s like a giant utopian restaurant!”

Today, with the help of the soup kitchen, Maurice has reached a place of greater health and stability, and he believes everyone has the ability to overcome difficult circumstances.

“Being homeless is a form of trauma,” he says. “But I believe everybody has resilience.”

 

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

 

Leucio’s Story

In Uncategorized on March 28, 2017 at 9:42 am

Leucio soup kitchen stories

Leucio’s sense of humor is as bright as the orange dress shirt he wore the day he stopped by to tell his story. At 61, he’s been coming to the soup kitchen for almost twenty years. He first came for lunch in 1998, when he was referred by a nearby support program for adults with disabilities that no longer had funding to serve food.

“I thought a soup kitchen was something from the 1800s, where they just hand out soup,” says Leucio. “I didn’t realize you could get a full meal.”

Leucio has Cerebral Palsy and now relies on Social Security Disability payments to make ends meet. He used to work part-time at Bronx State Hospital, where he taught a cooking class to patients, but his social security checks are now his sole source of income. He has a studio apartment through the Section 8 program – “I live with three people, he jokes, “me, myself, and I.” Coming to the soup kitchen is an opportunity to socialize with fellow guests, and the meals helps him survive on a very limited income. “I just don’t have enough money to buy food,” he says.

In addition to the soup kitchen’s healthy lunches, Leucio has found nourishment of a different kind through the Writers’ Workshop and still takes pride in the story he wrote that was published in one of the workshop anthologies. Having struggled with a learning disability and graduating high school reading at a fourth-grade level, Leucio says that encouragement from the workshop instructors gave him confidence he never had in school.

“I never wrote before the Writers’ Workshop,” he says. “It never went through my mind that I was good. Today my therapist read my story and she told me it was brilliant!”

You can read a poem by Leucio in Food for the Soul: Selections from the Holy Apostles Writers Workshop (available on Amazon) as well as several pieces on our blog.

Grace

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2017 at 3:05 pm

piano-1924351_1920

The first time grace was visited upon me was in mid-November. I actually had a paying gig. All the elements came together in a highly congenial and efficacious manner that can be described as grace. These fleeting moments of grace are perhaps the primary factor in sustaining my haphazard career in music. That frisson, that narcotic-like blast of euphoria that comes from playing an instrument in what could be considered a musical manner is what compels the foolhardy among us to become professional musicians. The band was amenable to my wishes and played well despite a short time for rehearsal. I knew the keyboard player and drummer. We’ve played together on previous occasions and share the same musical philosophy; you create music in the moment.

The whole thing is an existential tightrope walk. Think about the Flying Wallendas or Evil Knievel trying to traverse the canyon on his motorcycle.

The audience was fairly large and responsive to our musical endeavors. I think this positive response provided the creative stimulus needed to give a good performance. A good performance should provide a sense of communion. The audience and a performer merge. There is something seemingly mystical about it. Maybe this is a form of spirituality that is inherent in artistic activity no matter how base or magnanimous. Of course, this is my take on the evening’s events. In any event, that feeling, that grace or whatever it is provides me with something that makes music and music-making the paramount concern in my rather tatterdemalion life. Of course, writing is a fugitive enterprise and number two concern. Despite these two realms of grace, the pressure continues unabated. The mundane terror of daily life always reasserts itself when the gig is over. Bills must be paid; relationships have to be tended to; laundry must be done.

-Bern Nix