Sharing Food, Showing ‘Some Love’

DSC_0100Meredith Hoffman A line form at Tompkins Square Park to await food distribution by the volunteers of Bowery Mission.

Beyond serving as a green refuge, Tompkins Square Park offers a wide range of eating experiences. A recent food tasting in the park allowed area restaurants to serve up their creations. Locals frequent the Sunday morning farmers’ market where artisanal cheese from Hudson Valley farms and apples from nearby orchards are among a host of organic produce.

Saturday mornings, around 8 o’clock, a lengthy line reminiscent of Coxey’s Army begins to form along Avenue A. A broad ethnic mix of people, many aged or infirm wait patiently alongside mothers with their children in strollers. Most are wheeling shopping carts. Some on crutches, in wheel chairs form a separate line.

Lisa, a Hispanic woman, arrives and begins to hand out paper slips with numbers. She describes working for The Bowery Mission for the past seven months. She explains that during this period the number of slips she dispenses on a Saturday morning has gone from 40 to over 80. After receiving their numbers, the line disperses, moving into the park to sit and converse with friends in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Inside the park, I sit and chat with a man who appears to be in his 40s, and who describes being homeless and having come to the food line for the past 12 years. He explains the myriad offerings of church and social groups in the neighborhood that he depends upon. He relates that an individual arrives at the corner of Avenue A and Seventh Street around noon to distribute McDonald’s sandwiches that he purchases with his own money. He runs through the menus of The Catholic Worker house on East First and a church on 11th Street near Avenue B. Beside him, an elderly man in a suit recounts coming from Malta in the early 1950s and living in the area since. He fondly remembers when Italian peddlers set up carts laden with vegetables and fruits on Avenue C. The two chat amiably.

DSC_0097Meredith Hoffman Bagels and bread fill boxes that wait to be distributed to those standing in line.

Around 9 o’clock, a large white panel truck pulls up to the curb. On its side is emblazoned, “Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ John 14:6” The crew of eight quickly get out and form a circle. Their leader reminds them of the task awaiting them. “Let’s have some fun, we’re out to serve,” he says. “Show some love to the people.” They join hands, close their eyes in prayer for a moment, then rapidly spring into action in a well-organized, military-style process of unloading plastic milk crates laden with food. Packages of bread, eggplants, green peppers, pasta, pastries, as well as body wash, are set out. The crowd inside the park reforms its line and moves down the assembly line gathering food.

On the other side of the park entrance, a table is set up serving soup, donuts, juice. Two young Asian boys with their mother stand at the front of the line. Farther along, I notice the homeless man I spoke to. Methodically and quickly both lines are served and by 10 o’clock there is little evidence of the morning’s activity or that the lines were ever there.