“Would you like any sausage?” I ask the young gentleman in front of me. He looks like a tall Weezy (go ahead and Google it). He returns my smile and says he’s ‘game’ for some.
I’ve put my New York MetroCard to good use, hopping on the 6:30 a.m. B46 to volunteer at St. John’s Bread & Life on Lexington Ave., Brooklyn. I’m, as my friend would say, ‘dishing out the hope’ in the form of a hot breakfast. On the menu are fresh plums, pancakes, and sausage. The two girls next to me are from the University of Kentucky and they are on an alternative spring break with a group of about two dozen. Instead of the partying at Punta Cana, they’re donating time at Brooklyn’s largest food pantry.
St. John’s Bread & Life was established in 1982, and whose mission is routed in the miracle of Jesus feeding thousands with five loaves of bread and two fishes (John 6:1-15). St. John’s is a partner agency of City Harvest, the prominent Feeding America (FA) food bank serving New York City. Feeding America is the nation’s network of food banks serving every state, every city, and every zip code (click here to find yours). Every day St. John’s serves more than 2,500 meals to those in need. Boasting various support programs including, counseling service, spiritual assistance, nutritional education, and financial advising. They launched their digital choice pantry back in 2008. St. John’s is a community rock in it’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood.
Across the dining hall, guests share their breakfast and stories; I spot the smiles as I send off each guest with mine—sausage optional. Clearly a few regulars stand out and staple volunteers know who will take their breakfast to go. I practice a bit of Spanish, sausage es la palabra, salchicha, en español. We start to serve at 8 a.m. and with a strong memory I know who tries to come up for more before the 9:30 a.m. official call for seconds; I try to throw them a understanding wink.
I am fortunate I never grew up hungry, I brought turkey and roast beef sandwiches to school growing up. I can count on one hand how many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I’ve eaten. However, I do know what it’s like to be hungry. I spent months in Guatemala living with a Mayan family and running extensively. I remember the haunting feeling of not having seconds, my stomach adjusting itself, and the challenging of having to go to market to get more food (fue muy difícil el comienzo, pero ahora es más fácil que antes).
But hunger in New York—and in New York City—is a different beast. Abroad in my homeland of Bolivia, South America, like in Guatemala, there is severe malnutrition and starvation. In my little Southwest Florida (SWFL) niche I had the feeling that hunger, and the struggle, was swept under the rug. In SWFL I feel that hunger is segregated almost by neighborhood, more so than in the five boroughs of New York City, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island where hunger can literally be found at every other door. Hunger doesn’t discriminate.
Our President Donald J. Trump continues to talk about building a wall, yet I think with each sausage I pass out, of the wall that is food insecurity. According to City Harvest, nearly 1.4 million New Yorkers face hunger every year—about the population of San Antonio, Texas. The USDA reports that American food waste is estimated between 30-40 percent of the food supply. The USDA aims to to cut this number by 50% by 2030 (announced fall 2015).
Hunger is a wall that must come down and it’s absolutely inexcusable that in America we have neighbors who aren’t sure where their next meal may come from. Our hands are needed, our voices, our unwavering dedication, and our creative problem-solving skills are essential in the fight. We must be open to nontraditional solutions and ways to solve this unfortunate problem, which traditional minds have tried to solve. Access to fresh produce is essential to healthy living! Did you know that according to City Harvest, Lisa Sposato, Director of Food Sourcing, 9 percent of the produce in America passes through Hunts Point in the Bronx?
On Earth Day I was in the March for Science, alongside little future astronauts complete in space suits and chemists from Astrazeneca. Meanwhile out in Chicago, Feeding America announced its launch of MealConnect, a free platform to connect surplus food and meals from business to Feeding America’s network. FA’s network of partner agencies that serves “more than 46 million people each year.” MealConnect is the Airbnb (connecting food surplus to a need), meets Uber (transportation support included), solution to reducing food waste and is powered by Google.org. The platform is currently testing food recovery time and is the process of geographic rollout.
I heard a story once of a prominent chef who had opened up a soup kitchen in addition to his restaurant. While abroad on vacation he had ordered a dish with rice. He finished the whole dish, when his waiter returned to clear his place he noticed a single grain of rice was still on the plate. He had the server pause a moment so he could eat the single grain of rice.
That’s my vision for not just a hunger-free New York, but a hunger-free America. We all must be dedicated, whether finishing our plates, taking home leftovers, choosing the brown banana at the supermarket, making time to volunteer. We cannot wait until tomorrow to share our food, we must be sharing every meal now.
I believe we are all called to fight the good food fight. As Harry Chapin, the singer-songerwriter known for Taxi and Cats in the Cradle, said “We must all go that extra mile. We must be aggressive in our sense of challenging others…”
So may the food be with you and our neighbors in need!
P.S. Type in your zipcode here to find your local food bank, then contact them to start volunteering!