Rescuing Organic Portobello Mushrooms for Those in Need

Yesterday, The Local visited a homeless encampment on Avenue A. Just a block away, in Tompkins Square Park, several groups – like this one, this one, and this one – are working to feed the needy. Here’s one of them.

Stirring a shiny mix of Portobello mushrooms, sweet yellow peppers, and other vegetables, Su Wang scooped up a piece of white radish for a taste. “Five more minutes,” she said.

During the week, Ms. Wang is a 19-year-old student of political science at Hunter College. On weekends, she serves as a member of the Manhattan chapter of Food Not Bombs, a group that feeds the homeless with surplus food rescued from grocery stores and dumpsters.

The anti-poverty movement, which encourages countries to cut the amount they spend on war in order to insure that food is available to all, has more than 1,000 active chapters around the world, including a dozen sub-organizations in New York State. The Manhattan chapter rescues 50 to 100 pounds of food per week, to serve mostly as vegan and vegetarian meals.

On a recent morning, the group’s designated delivery person was Charlie Jacobs, a 19-year-old Upper West Side resident who finished high school a year ago and is forgoing college at the moment. Around noon, he picked up three boxes of fresh produce – deemed too old for sale, but still vibrantly colorful – from Perelandra’s in downtown Brooklyn.

As often happens, the organic market had more produce to give away than Mr. Jacobs could possibly tie to his bright-blue Ikea dolly and wheel across town.

“Sometimes we’ve gotten some really crazy-expensive fancy things from them that are just being thrown out,” he said. “It’s sort of bizarre, but when they get a new shipment, they kind of have to do that.”

Mr. Jacobs transported the food, by subway, to the St. Joseph’s residence of the Catholic Worker on First Street near Second Avenue. After it was washed and prepared in the shelter’s soup kitchen, Mr. Jacobs pushed it along First Avenue to Tompkins Square Park where a hungry crowd of about 20 awaited.

Chris Gaetano, a fast-talking New Jersey native who lives on the Upper East Side, was among those standing by. The 29-year-old financial journalist holds the position of “resident chef,” boasting creative recipes for soup in the winter and stir-fry in the summer.

“It’s Iron Chef-esque,” Mr. Jacobs said, referring to the week’s box of mystery ingredients.

Mr. Gaetano said that Food Not Bombs aimed to address the government’s misguided priorities. “We are issuing a challenge to the way things are by simply having a community – by simply providing for those around us and not just providing just charity but actually talking to these people and engaging with them,” he said.

Watch the video above for more about the work that Mr. Gaetano and his colleagues are doing in the East Village.