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Amid Life’s Ups and Downs, a Will to Uplift Others

Yesterday we profiled Food Not Bombs, which feeds East Villagers such as the homeless group we visited on Wednesday. Street Life Ministries also helps the needy in Tompkins Square Park. This is the story of one of the group’s volunteers.

A decade ago, police officer Glenn Ferro’s life fell apart. Caught in the grips of alcoholism and clinical depression, he was forced to resign from his job, went through a divorce, and lost his home. Today, the 61-year-old volunteers with Street Life Ministries in Tompkins Square Park, assisting homeless individuals with their everyday needs. His mission is to change the live of those who suffer from addiction, like he did.

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…

The Days and Nights of Jocelyn, Homeless in the East Village

The death of Liz Hooper – the cause of which has still not been determined – rattled the Tompkins Square Park transient community this week. “Things like this scare me,” said Jocelyn, 33, a mother of three who lives on the streets of the East Village. “It makes me really want to change the way I live. It could have been me.”  The Pasadena, Calif. native grew up in New Orleans; like Ms. Hooper, she entered the transient community after she began dabbling in drugs. She now spends most of her days panhandling on Second Avenue, in Tompkins Square Park and around Union Square – at night, she sleeps on East 4th Street and occasionally stays in a squat house in Brooklyn.  Her two daughters (7 and 4) stay with their grandmother in New Orleans while her 4-month-old son is in foster care. “I want to change my life so that I can be with them,” she said. “The fact that I am not with them is so painful.” Last month, The Local asked Jocelyn to tell us about a typical day.

Panhandling as a Social Experiment

Chris CoonMeghan Keneally Chris Coon.

Chris Coon takes a very methodical and well-accounted approach to panhandling, not because he is particularly fond of organization, but because he thinks of his work on the sociological level.

Mr. Coon, 29, is conducting a “social experiment” by trying to see how long it will take him to ask one million people for a donation to help get him out of homelessness.

In order to preserve the integrity of the project, he has a number of rules that he follows: he doesn’t start making the rounds until about 1 p.m. because he doesn’t like to talk to people while they’re eating (“its not respectful,” he said). He tries to remember the faces of the people he talks to because he doesn’t want to count them twice. He prefers to talk to couples, because it counts as two people. And more than anything, he hates it when people cut him off mid-spiel because then it doesn’t count at all.

To Mr. Coon, it all comes down to the numbers, and since starting in the beginning of May, the big number is the 3,462 people he has asked.

“I think it’s intuitive and creative and I made it into a job instead of just going up and saying ‘Hey, look, can I have a dollar?’” he said. “I probably have to speak to five or six million people to be able to actually ask one million of them.”

When he approaches people in Union Square, which has been his base of operations and his home on and off for the past few years, Mr. Coon explains the concept of his “experiment” and then records their gender and ethnicity, in an attempt to make the project as professional and accurate as possible.

“I want this to feel as much as an experiment as it can because for me it is an experiment to see how quickly I get out of being homeless,” Mr. Coon said.
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St. Mark’s Food Pantry Reopens

St. Mark's Food PantryMeghan Keneally The food pantry has reopened.

St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery started its annual food pantry last week, providing much needed food options for homeless and hungry in the East Village.

While there are two existing soup kitchens that provide hot meal options throughout the week, St. Mark’s is the only food pantry that is open mid week, allowing visitors to bring home fresh produce and non perishables so their supplies last till the weekend.

“There just aren’t enough services in this area, and people slip through the cracks,” said the Rev. Winnie Varghese of St. Mark’s.

After a previous relationship with Trader Joe’s ended in late 2009 due to rising costs on the supermarket’s side, Ms. Varghese partnered up with GreenMarket last year and they agreed to donate any remaining produce from the farmer’s market that they hold in the church square on Tuesdays. The food pantry at St. Mark’s will run every Wednesday at 6 p.m. and they hope to continue it through the winter if funding allows.
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A Death Jolts the Park’s Homeless

022011_homeless_JBN3J.B. Nicholas For many of the neighborhood’s homeless, the death of a woman who was sleeping outside St. Brigid’s Church on Sunday underscored the perilousness of life on the streets.
El Presidente
Grace's alcoveGreg Howard Top: A man known as El Presidente who frequents Tompkins Square Park. Below: The makeshift alcove where a woman’s body was found Sunday.

It’s been a day since Grace, the homeless woman who was a regular around Tompkins Square Park, was found dead under a scaffolding outside of St. Brigid’s Church. The layers of cardboard that she slept and died on are still on the ground, wet and wrinkled from the morning’s snow. Several rubber gloves, once worn by paramedics are strewn about. A single candle burns, a memorial to Grace’s lonely demise.

Tony, the homeless man who found Grace’s body, was unavailable for comment, but was said to still look shaken up this morning at The Bowery Mission from the loss of his friend, who he said had “a beautiful heart.”

Across the street in Tompkins Square Park, however, life is a bit more cheerful as dozens of homeless and needy New Yorkers line up for helpings of soup, bread, fruit, and vegetables that volunteers from The Bowery Mission are passing out. Men and women chat amicably, greeting familiar faces as they wait in the cold for the meal.

One of those in line, who identified himself only as “El Presidente,” 75, says he used to sleep at The Mission’s headquarters on the Bowery every night. Now, he says, he mostly spends the nights around Tompkins Square Park with a small band of younger men.

“They’re like my family,” El Presidente says. When asked about Grace, he scratches his head before conceding, “I don’t know her.” Disappointed, he asks for more physical detail, knowing that in the small Tompkins Square Park community, the likelihood of the two crossing paths was very high.

The sense of community extends to the volunteers of The Bowery Mission, as well. Marcus Nicholls, 25, has volunteered for just five months, but is familiar with a lot of the locals, greeting some by name.

“A lot of these people feel like people don’t care about them,” Mr. Nicholls says. “But we support them, we try to help them out.”

Matt Krivich, 37, director of operations at The Bowery Mission, is only too familiar with the constant uphill battle that the city’s neediest face. An ex-addict and homeless at one point himself, Mr. Krivich said he was saddened by Grace’s death.

He is not the only one to feel regret over her departure. Late on Monday afternoon people from the neighborhood stop at St. Brigid’s to gaze at the spot where Grace slept and died. The single candle has been joined by a second one and by handwritten messages.

“May the gods and goddesses bless you,” one reads. “You won’t be forgotten; your soul is at rest.”

On Ave. D, Homeless Brace For Snow

Homeless on Avenue D IChelsia Rose Marcius Felix Gates, 57, shoveled stranded motorists out of snow piles during December’s snowstorm. For many of the East Village’s homeless, the inclement weather can bring new opportunities to make money by performing odd jobs.
Homeless on Avenue D II

Snow for the homeless of Avenue D is a mixed blessing. They can earn quick cash shoveling out stranded motorists, but it is not enough to get them off the streets.

Take Abraham Rosado, for example.  Mr. Rosado, who’s 56, has earned money during winters on Avenue D by shoveling snow. To keep warm, he seeks out sidewalk grates and liquor stores.

It is a wearing routine when the temperature dips below freezing and, according to, Mr. Rosado will have more such days to endure. The last week of January is forecast to include a few more days of snow and possible rain with little sun.

That means Mr. Rosado may make a small profit wielding his shovel. But it also means that the only sustained periods of relief from the outdoors that he will likely be able to count on will come during dinner hours at a local soup kitchen.

Many of Alphabet City’s homeless helped commuters last month plow through piles of snow in exchange for a small fee.

Others like Shea Darnell Belle, 30, a homeless man born in the East Village, said they offer assistance for free, or next to free.

“One lady had me shovel out her car,” he said. “She asked, ‘What do you charge?’ and I said, ‘What you can afford.’”

Felix Gates, 57, who sells cigarettes on the corner of Avenue D and Ninth Street, watched during the late December blizzard as some motorists struggled to restart engines that sputtered and stalled. Some of those people left their cars unattended for a few days until the snow was cleared. Their misfortune ended up providing a boon to some homeless men and women who managed to get inside the vehicles and use them as temporary shelters.

Others, of course, slept outside, even in frigid temperatures.

“Many of them sleep on the steps, on stairways before the police tell them to go to a shelter.” Mr. Gates said. “You see people move from one spot to another, just trying to stay warm. I’ll be glad when it’s all over.”

On King Day, Savoring A Life Of Service

DSC_0083Meredith Hoffman Years after coming to East Village soup kitchens for help, Jeremy Jarvis now works as a volunteer helping those who are homeless.

Jeremy Jarvis has lived at opposite ends of the social spectrum. About 20 years ago – his life in a spiral of homelessness and alcoholism – he found himself standing in line at East Village soup kitchens.

Now, his is a life transformed and he works as a volunteer serving those who are in as much need as he once was.

And earlier today, as others gathered at ceremonies across New York and the nation to honor the memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Jarvis paid tribute to the civil rights icon in his own quiet way: serving those in need.

“If I’m living with more than I need, when other people don’t have enough, I’m doing an injustice,” said Mr. Jarvis, glancing at a portrait of Dr. King in the soup kitchen of the Catholic Worker on First Street near Second Avenue.

As Mr. Jarvis gazed around the room, he recalled eating his “first bowl of soup in this room, at one of these tables” amid his troubled youth. Traveling “from handout to handout,” he found few places that consistently wanted to help him — or even cared about him.
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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.
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Church’s Hot Meal Service to Resume

DSC_0110Meredith Hoffman Amy Ferrera, 5, enjoys a cupcake from the food pantry at Tompkins Square Park.

After a fire last November that destroyed their giant kitchen and drew national attention, Long Island-based Hope for the Future Ministries plans to begin serving hot meals again next month in Tompkins Square Park.

“We’ll have a grand reopening,” said Pastor Diane Dunn, who has been providing food and household items to people in the park for the past 22 years.

Since the fire, Pastor Dunn and her church have continued coming to the park on Wednesday evenings with groceries from the food bank, hot dogs and other donations from a neighboring restaurant. On Saturdays next month they will start serving full hot meals, everything from Salisbury steak to cake.

Over 200 people come each week to “the line,” in the park, with the seniors given priority to get their food first. But the faces on the “the line” have changed, she said.

“I’ve seen a change in the population who comes here—more middle class unemployed, who’ve run out of their unemployment,” Ms. Dunn said. “Numbers were down for a while and then when the recession hit—Boom! They increased.”
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Interview | Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney

Carolyn B. Maloney at India Day Parade Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, here greeting constituents at the India Day Parade last month, said that job creation is crucial for eliminating income inequality in the East Village.

Only days after Representative Carolyn B. Maloney won the Democratic party’s nomination for the 14th Congressional District, she was on her way to Washington to continue her long fight to pass the 9/11 Health and Compensation bill, of which she has been a leading advocate.

Ms. Maloney, 64, who defeated her opponent, Reshma Saujani, in the primary elections on Sept. 14 with 81 percent of the vote, spoke with The Local East Village about her stance on poverty, homelessness, noise violations – and bed bugs! – in our neighborhood.
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