Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen

Archive for the ‘Soup Kitchen Stories’ Category

William’s Story

In Soup Kitchen Stories, Uncategorized on December 18, 2017 at 4:27 pm

Homelessness can happen to anyone, something 71 year old soup kitchen guest William discovered this past summer.

“For the first time in my life, I’m homeless,” he said in September of 2017.“It’s been a month and a half since I lost my apartment.”

“I always worked, ever since I was 18 years old…until a couple of years ago,” he said. For most of his career, he was a shipping and receiving clerk. In his later years he worked in the mail room at a New York City homeless shelter.

Because of his work in the homeless shelter, William did know that he could find a meal at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. He wasn’t expecting his hope to be restored too though, when he first sat down with one of our social services counselors.  “She told me I was eligible for Medicare, housing and food stamps,” he said brightly. “And she even helped me complete the application on-line…I never knew about all those things.”

When he retired, William had accrued a small 401k plan, but sadly, he developed heart and lung problems that landed him in the hospital. He still needs regular monitoring, treatment and medication for these conditions. “The medical bills wiped out my 401k, so now I only get a little social security,” he explained.  “That’s why I lost my apartment.”

An only child and the last remaining member of his family alive, William packed up his belongings and put them in storage in a friend’s basement late this summer. A good friend of his told him he should stay at a shelter but, he says with determination, “I don’t want to go to there, not if I can help it.” So for now, the 71 year old sleeps on a park bench on the upper West Side.

“I don’t know how to be homeless,” he told me, “At my age, it’s not something I’m used to doing.”

The soup kitchen has quickly become a refuge from the harsh realities of street homelessness, and a place to figure out his next steps. “I get my mail here now, and I’m taking care of business. It’s a chance to take care of my health, and have a few peaceful moments.”

But, he says, he’s been longing for the comforts of the his old apartment, the home he knew for years where he would often host holiday celebrations with this friends.

“Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday,” William recalls. “I love to cook, and especially to cook for my friends. I’m used to having my own kitchen, and home cooked meals.”

To help us continue to serve guests like William, click here.

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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

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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.”

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.”

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.”

 

Philip

In Soup Kitchen Stories on November 22, 2016 at 7:34 pm

 

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On many mornings, Philip will arrive early, bundled up for the cold weather and greeting other guests with a smile and a word of encouragement. A retired Parks and Recreation Director on a limited income, Philip isn’t comfortable just having a meal here without giving back.

“I’ve donated some of my old clothes…things like that,” he explains. “I’ll get a hot meal, and that helps, but a lot of what I am thankful for is the social part,” he explains.

For Philip, this civic minded way of thinking can be traced back to a lifetime of public service and leadership as a Parks and Recreation Director, a youth hockey coach and team sports.

Philip remembers playing baseball in high school so competitively that he was scouted for college teams. “But my mother said no, and I had to respect her wishes,” he says, adding.”I’ve made peace with it. I’ve done other good things with my life that I’m proud of.”

After earning a degree in physical education, Philip enjoyed a productive career with both the New York City and New Rochelle Parks and Recreation departments. His lifetime contribution to the the well-being of countless New Yorkers, from the young athletes he coached to older adults who found happiness and health because of his leadership in their local parks and recreations programs is immeasurable.

“I led my teams to the state championships,” he remembers with pride. “Even when they weren’t expecting to get that far.”

We are seeing more New York retirees like Philip join us regularly for their daily meals. In fact, in our latest survey,  over 14% of guests reported they are over the age of 65, a 4% increase since 2014. Like Philip,  who has contributed so much to society, they too are struggling to make ends meet in New York City on  limited retirement incomes.  Sitting down for a meal alongside the  most vulnerable and homeless New Yorkers, Philip is one of these many senior citizens who are valued members in our community, offering motivation,  hope and wisdom to others.

“The community here means a lot to me,” Philip says. “I like to help out where and when I can.”

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To find out more about how people come together to help hungry and homeless New Yorkers at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, log onto our special holiday video on our website at:

http://holyapostlessoupkitchen.org/2016/06/happy-holidays-holy-apostles-soup-kitchen/

 

 

Anthony

In Soup Kitchen Stories, Uncategorized on September 27, 2016 at 2:53 pm

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Two years ago, Anthony was enjoying a successful career in wardrobe, set design and acting for film and tv. Originally from Delaware, where his mother was a college professor of Communications and his father ran a small construction company, Anthony grew up in a loving, comfortable home.  He was encouraged to develop his creativity, work hard and put his best foot forward in everything he did.

Sadly, when he was still a young man, both his parents passed on within a few years of each other and Anthony, with no brothers and sisters to lean on to help, coped with his grief by travelling the world, wanting to experience life to its fullest. Always optimistic, he had faith that between trips he could always find new gigs on tv and film projects.That formula worked for several years before he finally settled down in New York with a long term job on a major television network tv show in New York.

“I lived in an apartment building on the West Side, you know…a doorman,  a nice place, ” he says. “I enjoyed the good things in life: restaurants, travel, nice clothes. I didn’t know what it was like to live without any money.”

So, when the production company went through a reorganization and Anthony lost his job, he was confident he could pick up new work before too long. That was a year and a half ago.  “I thought I’d pick up something new by the end of the month,” he remembers. “Then one month turned into the next, and then the next.”

Never one to give up hope,  Anthony refused to think about the worst case scenario.

But with no income, and no new job prospects in the competitive show business industry, Anthony soon saw his bank account dramatically shrink until he finally had to use his security deposit to pay for a final month on his apartment last June. Since then, he’s been living on the street, homeless, and without family to turn to.

“That first day, when I moved all my things into storage, I looked around and thought – I really don’t have anywhere to go!” he says. “So I started walking, and trying to figure this ‘homelessness thing’ out.”

Anthony’s been putting one step in front of the other ever since. Not feeling safe in the crowded shelter system, he started sleeping on the subway at night, and coming to the soup kitchen during the day for his midday meal.

“If I stay clean and well groomed, and I sit a certain way on the subway  with my briefcase between my feet, I can close my eyes.  I just look like I’m a tired commuter, and I sleep from one end of the line to the other” he says. “By using my old gym membership I can still shower and stay clean. The haircut vouchers from the soup kitchen have really helped.”

At first, he said, it was hard to ask for help. “I always saw people in line here and I was hungry. My pride got in the way though. I kept saying to myself – ‘I don’t want to be in that line’. Next thing you know…I’m in that line!”

He remembers his first impression of the inside of the soup kitchen as he stood with his tray of food, how  it immediately gave him a sense of hope, of peace: “The church is so beautiful!”

Anthony continued to look for work, but when his phone got cut off, he faced an even harder uphill battle to stay on top of his job search.  Excited to find out about our computer lab and resume coaching, he says, “All the people here help so much, they are amazing – the food, the clothing, the soap and toothpaste,  the haircut vouchers. It makes me want to volunteer too. I need to feel productive.”

Anthony’s perseverance, combined with the help from the soup kitchen will hopefully pay off  before the winter months set in. He’s just recently gone to several  job interviews for customer service positions and one job looks especially promising.

“You know, I see this as temporary. It has to be” he says, determination in his voice.  “Some day, I’ll be able to give back a lot to the soup kitchen. You’ll see!”

 

 

Jose

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.

 

Volunteer Rick Landman, and the Legacy of CBST

In Soup Kitchen Stories, Uncategorized, Volunteer Stories on April 22, 2016 at 2:18 pm

“Volunteering at Holy Apostles balances me and challenges me.” Rick Landman, soup kitchen volunteer, pictured here with Rev. Glenn Chalmers.

On any Thursday at the soup kitchen, the unmistakable and joyful volunteer presence of Rick Landman cannot be missed. A member of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, “CBST”, which held Friday night services at the church for many years, Rick has been a vital link that ties  together the history of these organizations sharing the same space. Rick has also been an ambassador of the welcoming  spirit and  legacy of LGBT activism that CBST and Holy Apostles embody.

A fixture in the history of Friday nights at Holy Apostles, CBST is now celebrating its first Passover in its new, permanent home, after moving earlier this month. We said goodbye to their physical presence and wished them well in their new home with a traditional procession that took the congregation through Holy Apostles for a blessing by Reverend Glenn Chalmers, seen here with Rick. We’re grateful to know the congregation is close by, and to know that Rick will still be representing their presence at the soup kitchen.

Rick’s first connection with Holy Apostles was in the early 1970s when the church became a temporary home for many fledgling gay and lesbian organizations following the Stone Wall riots. Among them was CBST – the first New York LGBT synagogue – which Rick came to in 1973. Twenty five years later, Rick was part of the search committee that selected the Church as a more permanent home for CBST’s Friday night Shabbat service.

Thinking back to his return with his congregation to Holy Apostles in 1998, Rick remembers how he didn’t know where he was at first, because of the major renovations after the 1992 fire.

Rick recalls how his perspective changed  when he and his congregation adjusted to holding Shabbat in a church,  “Going to a Church … opened up my perspective to understand how similar Episcopal Christians were to me. I also learned to not only appreciate the space but also the people that I met in the Church.”

It was only a matter of time before he naturally gravitated to the life of the soup kitchen.

“I did volunteer at the soup kitchen for a few Martin Luther King days when I worked full time, but when I retired from NYU in 2007, I started to volunteer every Thursday with the CBST group,” he remembers. Now, after volunteering 1,500 hours over nine years Rick says of the volunteers, guests and staff he has met at the soup kitchen: “They have given me so much love and support.”

The son of  two German Holocaust survivors,  Rick has dedicated his life to education, the law and civil rights. Even with the intergenerational pain from the Holocaust, and the challenge of growing up gay in the 1960’s, the guests’ stories at the soup kitchen often remind Rick of the fortunate circumstances he has been blessed with. “Coming from a rather sheltered life, volunteering at the Holy Apostles balances me and challenges me,” he says.

We’re glad Rick has no plans of retiring his volunteer apron any time soon. “I look forward to my time at the soup kitchen not only to see the staff and volunteers, but I have made many weekly friends of our guests who are helping me with life advice or just schmooze with me.  If I am gone a week, I am surprised when people notice and ask me where I was.”

We will  miss CBST,  and are gratified to know they are just a few blocks away, settling into their new home. And we’re comforted knowing the spirit of that congregation lives on through the dedication that Rick brings to the soup kitchen every Thursday.

Maria’s Story

In Soup Kitchen Stories, Uncategorized on March 22, 2016 at 5:38 pm

 

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When 57 year old Maria was in her early twenties she survived a tragedy few can imagine: losing  her parents, her sister and brother to gun violence.

So, after decades of just getting by, carrying the burden of trauma and grief, her recent job loss from an Atlantic City Casino came as just another small hurdle get over, “You know, these things happen. You just have to figure out what’s next,” she says, brightly. Moving back to Queens, where she’d spent a majority of her life, she enrolled in a Back-to-Work program that’s located near the soup kitchen.

“I heard you could get a meal here,” she says, “So I stopped in after the program one day and I’ve been coming here since.”

For Maria, who has no savings, getting to and from the Back-to-Work program is expensive, but, she said, the hot meals from our kitchen and the MetroCards from our social services program make the daily commute much more manageable.

“The volunteers are always so compassionate, and I know I can get at least one good meal every day.It’s always a full meal, and very healthy, and  I do love getting to have a cup of coffee before my ride back home,” she says, relaxing for a few minutes with her hands wrapped around a warm cup.

The impact of the tragedy Maria survived  has of course made an indelible print on her life but despite all the trauma she endured, Maria  somehow chose early on to keep her feet on the ground, and live life with gratitude and dignity.

“I’ve always had to get by on my own wits, and not rely on anyone else,” she says, “but the people here are so kind, they really want to help – and I can’t tell you much that makes  me feel very, very blessed.”