Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen

Archive for the ‘Keeping hope alive’ Category

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


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.”


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.”



In employment, Keeping hope alive, Soup Kitchen Stories on May 25, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Jose actor

 Twenty six year old Jose’s life has changed in ways he never expected.  Moving from foster home to foster home growing up, Jose never had the safety net of a loving family and has been homeless most of his young adult life. Unable to complete his education due to so many upheavals,  Jose has continued his studies through on-line coursework in writing and acting.  Warding off despair and hopelessness while surfing the web at the library  —  hungry for a meal, a job, a place that would accept him  — Jose found our website and his hope was ignited.

“The first thing I noticed was how calm it is here, how peaceful, how welcoming,” he recalls.  “I can come here and no matter how low I’m feeling, it lifts my spirits.”

Jose has found more than a welcome place for a nutritious meal, he tells us.  After seeing other guests lining up at our social services program in the narthex of the church, he knew he might find some hope for his situation as well. When he told one of our social services advisers about his situation, that it was almost impossible to secure a job without identification and mailing address, he was steered toward one of our most practical programs, a simple photo ID with his name and contact information for verification.  “I was finally able to get an ID and a mailing address here, so I can apply for jobs,” he says.

Carrying a notebook with him that’s filled with a screenplay he’s writing, he was also  excited to find out about our Writers’ Workshop, where he can get feedback on his work , continue learning his craft and meet new friends in our soup kitchen family.

It was finally our clothing pantry that led Jose out of the vicious cycle of homelessness and unemployment. After securing his first audition, he knew he would need appropriate clothing to make that winning first impression. Referring to our Manager of Social Services he says, “Rich hooked me up with a suit, and they said it was perfect for the role!” Today, Jose now has a small role on a major network television program,work experience and, finally,  hope for his future.


Lost Soul

In fiction, Keeping hope alive, Love, The worst of times on May 13, 2016 at 4:04 pm

don't jump i love you

It’s springtime in the city and the sun is about to rise up – and you see the delivery man making his rounds.

A police officer is walking his beat – on Fifth Ave and 57th Street – when he looks up and sees a man on the edge of a tall building, he realizes this man is going to jump. He calls on his walkie-talkie before going to the building where the man is. He rushes to the building, and asks the porter, “Where is the elevator?” He figures he is on the 30th floor.  When he gets there – all the doors are locked – it is only 8 am in the morning.

Just when he turns around – the elevator door opens and a young lady comes out. He asks her if she has the keys to the office leading to the 5th Ave window – where the man is – she says,  “Yes, is there anything wrong?” The police officer says – “There is a man on the edge of the window.” The lady gets upset. He puts his hand around her and says – “Just relax, please.” As he enters the office – and sees one of the windows open – he looks out, and sees the young man on the edge of the window, crying by himself. The young man sees the police officer. “Stay away from me or I’ll jump,” says the young man – the police officer asks the young man if he wants to talk about his troubles – “What’s your name son?” “ What difference does it make?” says the young man. “I have a 19 year old son like you – I care,” says the police officer. The police officer mostly listens as the young man describes his very personal struggle with his mental illness. “My name is Kelly – and if you come in I promise you I will help you,” says the police officer. “You’re just trying to fool me,” says the young man on the edge of the window.

“How can I trust a police officer?” says the young man.  “Tell you what,” says the police officer –“I take off my uniform and you and I can talk inside.” The room is full of police officers, “how can I trust them?” — says the young man. “Listen, I’ll send them away, and it will be just you and me,” says the police officer. Police Officer Kelly finds himself with a young man threatening to jump from a window, and realizes by talking to the young man it gives him a sense of hope and encouragement to come in.

Kelly the police officer tells his captain to give him 10 or 20 minutes – Kelly steps outside on the edge of the window. “How are doing son?” says Kelly the police officer. “I just don’t know,” says the young man on the edge of the window, his eyes wet with tears. “Listen son – sometimes life can get messy, you can be down today, but then you come back up again, son.” As the young man listens to Kelly, the police officer, he’s able to get a good grip on the young man and get him inside the building.

The young man starts crying and sheds tears. “It’s ok to cry, son. And I promise I will help you,” says Kelly. He gives him a big hug.

-Charles Borges


Charlese’s Story

In Guest stories, Keeping hope alive, Soup Kitchen Stories, The worst of times, Uncategorized on December 7, 2015 at 2:11 pm

Stories -charlese

Homelessness can happen to anyone. Just ask 64 year old Charlese, who lived in the same Upper West Side apartment for almost 40 years, since before her marriage. Her husband owned a beauty salon which Charlese become the manager of, a position she held for 24 years. But when their marriage broke down, Charlese lost her job as well.

“Because I was his wife, I wasn’t able to get any unemployment benefits,” Charlese explains. “He moved out and I wasn’t able to manage the rent alone.

Just as Charlese was forced to tap into her life savings, a new landlord increased her rent dramatically. Her only living family was her elderly father, too frail to support her. Without any income, Charlese was evicted in August, 2013 after she had depleted all her life savings.  Then next thing she knew, she found herself homeless, afraid and alone, sleeping in the Amtrak waiting room at Penn Station, or riding the subway. Without anyone else to turn to, she turned to the soup kitchen. She smiles as she recalls her first meal here.

“I remember the first day I came here.  I felt so peaceful, I felt at home.”

Charlese has spent many days here, even during her father’s illness, when she cared for him despite her own challenges. She’s come here to grieve his recent passing and she lights up when she talks about him.”He was a veteran and a boxer – he taught me how to fight, in every sense of the word.”

Fighting is what Charlese is doing—to stay sane … to stay safe … and to get her life back. This spring she shared her story of homelessness and the hope she found at the soup kitchen at the annual spring fundraiser, From Farm to Tray. “I’m so grateful to everyone, especially the social services staff members who have given me hope at times when I literally felt like I couldn’t go on.”

Today, Charlese has secured a part time job at a call center and lives frugally with a friend to whom she pays rent. While she struggles to  to cover all of her expenses on low wages, she’s determined to never have to rely on a shelter. She says simply, “The food here and the community here has helped me preserve my dignity and spirit.”



My experience as a Volunteer at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen on Thanksgiving Day

In holidays, Keeping hope alive, Volunteer Stories on November 20, 2015 at 5:59 pm


I met some beautiful people in the soup kitchen, this man told me thank you for your kindness. Tell me what more can I ask for — a beautiful Thanksgiving Day at the soup kitchen. Then, I met some other volunteers and they told me they want to see me again next year.

This is my first Christmas without my mom. But I realize now there are many beautiful people out there. I didn’t see my friend George on Thanksgiving Day, but he told me a few days before, I will be ok.

-Charles Borges

Londy’s Story

In Guest stories, Keeping hope alive, Soup Kitchen Stories on August 27, 2015 at 3:25 pm




When thirty two year old Londy and her twelve year old daughter first came to Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen two years ago, they were not only hungry for a meal, they were also fleeing a dangerous domestic violence situation. For Londy, the prospect of homelessness was safer than  the constant threat of physical abuse.

And with no family in the area for support, Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen soon became a place she and her daughter could find the routine of regular meals, a safe community and, even, tradition.  “I love the little things they do here, especially on the holidays,” she said, “It really means a lot – to be able to have a place to celebrate whatever holiday is going on. ”

It’s taken courage for  Londy to trust  people again, after living under chronic fear for so long. She’s been enduring unpredictable and temporary living arrangements while seeking out housing that’s truly safe and permanent. “I live in a shelter so the soup kitchen is really comforting,”  she says, adding how much she found comfort by talking with one of the clergy members one day, and how the social services program has helped her navigate resources to help her cope.

“I was doing really bad,” Londy recalls. “And the people  helped me with clothing, and resources like shelter referrals, so I could find ways to survive.”

While she tells her story, Londy  pauses to say hello to another guest and then remarks, “Everyone – their whole demeanor, is really nice here. It helps.”

Today, Londy’s hopeful that her section 8 housing application will be approved before the winter sets in. While she must contend with the stress of waiting for that outcome, she’s gained enough trust in others again to meet with  both the chiropractor and  energy healer who volunteer their time at the soup kitchen  every week.

“I’ve got really bad back problems from not sleeping well, and the chiropractor really helps,” she says. “And I feel so light after meeting with the energy healer, it was amazing!”





In Guest stories, Keeping hope alive on August 11, 2015 at 2:15 pm


Recently,  Jacques dropped in for a visit on his day off to let our social services team know  how much his life has really turned around since he first came to the soup kitchen. When the fifty two year old first came here about three years ago, he had lost his job and his home.  He was also grieving the loss of his mother, who he had lived with and helped care for during her illness before she passed away.

“When she passed —” he recalls. “Everything just fell apart. I was in a shelter. I never thought I’d end up there.”

Thinking about his days in the shelter Jacques says, “I was ashamed, but the soup kitchen helped me remember who I am  and that anyone can end up where I was.”

“I had no money but the soup kitchen helped me get through the day,” Jacques recalls, thinking about that tough winter, “There are very nice people here and it was really a source of energy, the meals and their kindness. They issued me a MetroCard, gloves, scarves and hats.”

Now, Jacques  is working again in security, “I’ve got a room of my own in a two story building,” he says.  “I got my own place thanks to the help here which helped me with referrals for housing.”

Recently, Jacques even got a promotion at his new job. He gives credit to the social services team and the volunteers here who inspired him to have a new positive, outlook on life one that he knows his mother would be proud of, “Just by being kind and being helpful, they helped me get to where I am now.”

Youth Group

In Keeping hope alive, Love on June 26, 2015 at 12:46 pm

rainbow electrical wires

Maybe not every person should be a parent.  There is no how-to-guide for new parents.  I believe that parenting is a day to day experience.  There is always something new to learn.  I also believe that it is a parent’s responsibility/job to nourish, care for, love, protect and support their child.

I was born and raised in St. Albans, Queens, New York.  The only child of Catherine and Robert Gibson, we lived with my mom’s aunt and her husband in a middle class neighborhood.  Everyone knew each other in my neighborhood.  It was a time when screen doors did not need to be locked.  The husbands worked as policemen, postal workers or NYC transit employees.  The wives were teachers, librarians or nurses.  When I was 2 years old my dad walked out on us.  So my mom stepped up and worked even harder and longer hours at the hospital.  But when my mom and I were together on her days off, we always had fun.  She always had me laughing until my sides hurt.  I especially remember our long walks on warm summer evenings and then cooling ourselves with Carvel cones.  My mom loved her ice cream.  My mom made sure I went to school every day and church every Sunday.  Our church was St. Albans Congregational Church.  My uncle was a deacon and my aunt a deaconess.  My mom was a member of one of the many clubs in the church.  Sometime after my confirmation, my mom volunteered me to be one of two young acolytes in the church.  I was also in the youth choir for a brief period.  My mom was strict, but I think she thought she needed to be.  My mom’s strength and love made me want to be a good mom like she was.

I almost lost my mom when I was 12 years old.  The week before Christmas my mom and our pregnant neighbor were on their way home from work when they were hit by an oncoming car.  The impact knocked my mom a block away.  On the operating table the surgeons lost my mom for a few seconds.  But God intervened and brought my mom back to me.  What a blessed gift! Our pregnant neighbor survived and gave birth to a healthy baby boy.  That was a hard time for both my mom and me.  But my mom got stronger and stronger and was finally released from the hospital.

During the years that followed my high school graduation, I worked as an administrative assistant in such areas as publishing, advertising and insurance.  Going to work and attending church on Sundays to thank God for my blessings, that was my way of life.

My own unplanned pregnancy in 1983 was a special blessing from God but I didn’t figure that out right away.  There was fetal distress during labor.  The umbilical cord was wrapped around my baby’s head, cutting off its oxygen supply.  But for the Grace of God a healthy baby girl was delivered to me.  I was also blessed to have my mom help me raise my daughter who I named Tolanya Janelle Gibson.  I did my best to make sure her childhood had as much fun and love as mine did.

I soon realized I was blessed with a very bright little girl.  She was an A student throughout her school years.  Tolanya’s grades were eagerly accepted at Columbia University here in NY.  Her major was Electrical Engineering.  During her freshman year Tolanya did not socialize much.  She was always in the library or in her dorm room.  On her visits home she seemed more to herself; quiet.  I noticed severe weight loss and she looked sad at times.  I then realized that once again I needed to remind my daughter that I would be there for her if she needed to talk.  While in my 50’s I suddenly found myself the care taker for my mom the last 7 years of her life.  Not an easy job taking care of a parent; especially if that parent suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.  But God lifted my mom up a little while longer because he knew I would need her help.

Sometime during Tolanya’s junior year she told me that she was gay.  I reassured my daughter that not only would I always be there for her – no matter what she decided; but also that she was my “world” and that I would take a bullet for her.  And then she told me something I never thought I would hear my daughter say.  She told me that she was thinking of killing herself.  It was as though the building we were in had crumbled down around us.  I suggested she sign up to see an “on campus” therapist.  She did and it helped her immensely.

Tolanya graduated from Columbia University with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering in 2005.  Continuing on her educational journey, Tolanya began her graduate program at The University at Buffalo.  Her research included Nanophotonics and nonlinear optics.  But with my daughter even more isolated up there in Buffalo I prayed for her non-stop.  One day in 2009 Tolanya called me from Buffalo to say that she was thinking about starting testosterone shots.  My mind kind of swirled for a few seconds as I tried to grasp this new revelation.  All I could say was “What, why?”  She then explained that she felt like a male in a female’s body.  And that she wanted to begin her transition from female to male.  Transgender was not a new word for me since Cher Bono’s son made his transitioning public.  But I did sob after the phone call.  To think, my own daughter carried such a heavy load alone.  Knowing that she had thoughts of suicide paralyzed me.  How could I have not known?  What kind of parent was I that my child suffered alone?  Feeling somewhat deficient I asked God to help me be an even better parent in order to help my daughter.

Around this time the Lord led me to Holy Apostles.  It was my first time experiencing a holy Eucharist and it uplifted me into a new realm of calm.  At Holy Apostles I also discovered the rewards from volunteering at the soup kitchen.  In addition, my own therapist helped me work through my feelings of inadequacy.  But the journey for me was kind of rocky since I was still mourning the loss of my mom.

So, Tolanya chose 4 new names, emailed them to me and asked me which one I liked the best.  And the name we both agreed on was Ethan Asher Gibson.  Ethan quickly changed his name on all of his records.  He graduated in 2012 with a Doctorate in Electrical Engineering.  He moved back home here in our one bedroom apartment.  Many small minded neighbors who knew my mom and even remember my son growing up here would roll their eyes upon seeing him going in or out of our building.  A gay slur could be heard while they gossiped amongst themselves.  Some even stopped speaking to me in passing and would turn their heads the other way.  I began to read the 37th psalm morning and night.  Ethan had his top surgery done last August and made a full recovery.

My mom used to tell me many times that “God never gives us more than we can bear”.  And here I am.  I am a cat mom.  I am a soup kitchen volunteer and I am the parent of a transgender man. I surrender all of my love and support to him on a daily basis.  I am proud of all of his accomplishments and proud that he is my son.

-Linda Gibson

Soup Kitchen Story: Robert

In employment, Guest stories, Keeping hope alive on May 7, 2015 at 2:09 pm

Robert with border

Robert has been delivering important messages for a long time now, and we’re fortunate that his work has brought him back through the doors of Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen.  In the mid 1990’s Robert was a bike messenger in lower Manhattan and would “stop in pretty much every day for a hot meal” at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. By the year 2000 he had put in enough time –  “8 hours a day on a bike!” – to merit moving up to a job as an indoor messenger, working within an office mailroom setting.  Hard work has always been central to Robert’s life.

“My mother instilled a good work ethic in me,” he tells me. “You’ve got to put something into life in order to get something out of it!”

He was working hard and his employment steady when, in 2006, he was diagnosed with cancer. No longer able to work full time, Robert found himself without a job at all, his only focus on survival. That’s when he turned to Harlem United for support, which ultimately led to the part time job that brought him back to the steps of Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, helping today’s guests.

Robert says Harlem United Services was originally set up to help only people living with HIV access the help they need, but it has expanded its range of services to people with differing physical and mental health needs.  His job is to get the message out about its day programs: from therapy to housing and health coordination.  “I had to think of places where I could tell a lot of people about Harlem United, and Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen was always in the back of my mind,” he says.

Harlem United is just one of many agencies we invite into the soup kitchen daily to offer guests a way to connect with others who can offer them additional help to address specific needs. Robert is here in this capacity twice a month and though we serve over 1,000 meals every day he says  he will be satisfied if he can reach “one person.”

“This place is an oasis in the middle of Manhattan,” Robert says, “People can eat all they want here, come back for seconds and anyone can use it. I know  it’s made a big impact on people.”