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Post-Sandy, Bowery Mission and Other Shelters Kept Up Their Good Work

Dining Hall in Bowery MissionSanna Chu Dining Hall at Bowery Mission

Before restaurants and food distribution centers mobilized in the wake of Sandy, shelters and religious institutions that have long fed the neighborhood’s needy were already in high gear.

Last week, more than 160 additional people bunkered down in the Bowery Mission’s emergency shelter areas. James Macklin, director of outreach, said the shelter’s 10 staffers took the uptick in stride, continuing to serve three hot meals a day to 80 permanent residents as well as the influx of visitors.

“I was cooking by torchlight,” said Delon Ali, a chef at Bowery Mission. “We served 700 to 1,000 plates per day here.”

Aside from its long-term residents, the 133-year-old organization provides emergency housing for overnight guests when the temperature drops below 40 degrees and during extreme weather. During cold nights, the Mission might see up to 100 people sleeping in its chapel and dining room.

Mr. Macklin said 160 might have been a record high, but in the 27 years he has worked at the shelter, he has never seen anyone turned away. “I haven’t seen it done and I don’t think we will ever do that,” he said.

During the storm last Monday, the Mission, along with much of downtown Manhattan, was plunged into darkness. It took to Twitter to call for a generator. The next day, three came: two were used to power the Mission on Bowery and one was used at its Transitional Center on Avenue D.

James Macklin at Bowery MissionSanna Chu James Macklin at Bowery Mission

The Mission gets regular donations from individuals and businesses including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Duane Reade, and others. After the storm, there was an even greater outpouring of support. “We have buses coming all the way from Elmira, N.Y., loaded from top to bottom and they’re coming back again to help us do what we do,” Mr. Macklin said. Even neighboring pizzeria Pulino’s sent over some grub.

The donations weren’t just for those at the shelter. The Mission also distributes food all over the city, from churches to Coney Island. It gave away hot meals and supplies on Avenue D today.

Charles Reaves, 43, who had been staying at the Mission for five months, wasn’t troubled much by the storm. “It got a little crowded in here at night but it was okay,” he said. “It was for a good reason. We got to provide food and shelter for a lot of people who otherwise had nowhere to go.”

For Matt Krivich, 38, the Mission’s director of operations, Sandy brought a sense of uncertainty but also of unity. “It brought all of us together a little bit more because we didn’t have distractions. We have a great staff and our residents all stepped up and helped maintain order and keep people safe.”

Over at the Catholic Worker, workers were able to continue using gas ovens to serve hot meals to over 40 residents split between St. Joseph house and Maryhouse. The weekday soup line – normally open to the public from 10 a.m. till 11.30 a.m., Monday through Friday – continued uninterrupted. “But we were cooking in the dark,” said Carmen Trotta, 47, a Catholic worker.

The Catholic Worker did not house any Sandy refugees, since its houses are usually at capacity.

Avenue D Sandy reliefSanna Chu Relief Effort on Avenue D

With their overstocked freezer, the workers were able to keep food cold for a few days after the power went out, before doing a cook-off with leftover meat. Some salad had to be thrown out but there was no big loss, according to Mr. Trotta.

“It was a humbling experience to see how quickly our high-tech society can crumble,” said Mr. Trotta. With the lights out, the residents were forced to sleep longer. And with nowhere to go, the workers and residents drew closer together as a community.

While the Catholic Worker’s soup line was a little longer than usual, Graffiti Church had a different experience. The church’s normal Wednesday and Saturday meal services saw fewer people than usual, probably because many had moved out of the area to seek shelter.

In addition to organizing a clothing drive, the church has been helping local residents clean out their apartments and fight mold. “People in this area have never had to deal with this problem before,” said Reverend Taylor Field. To address it, the church, at 205 East Seventh Street, will hold a free mold prevention seminar tonight, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Nevermind Those Bowery Hotels: the Real Starwatching Is at Maryhouse

Screen shot 2012-06-27 at 10.25.49 AMFelton Davis Joanne Kennedy gives a quick astronomy lesson.

If it were up to him, Felton Davis would install a 75-foot dome atop the communal shelter where he has lived for 25 years. But the Catholic Worker doesn’t have that kind of money, so he uses a simple telescope to show his fellow Maryhouse residents the wonders of the universe.

Mr. Davis hosts informal viewings on the rooftop of the Catholic-anarchist hospitality house, but on a half dozen occasions, he’s taken his planet parties to the street. Saturday night, he took his Orion telescope and wide-angle Q70 lens to the corner of East Third Street and Second Avenue to give over a hundred passersby an intimate view of Saturn. Positioned next to a bright star in the Virgo constellation, the planet is imminently visible during these summer months.

“This is something that intrudes on people’s consciousness in very strange ways. It’s out of this world,” Mr. Davis told The Local. “People were surprised they could see Saturn from the city streets.” Read more…

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. Read more…