Around thanksgiving there’s an eerie sense of quiet and calm in New York City, when people leave their city flats to spend the day or weekend with families in New Jersey, Long Island or even further afield. But one place where it’s anything but quiet is at the city’s homeless shelters, where people queue around the block to be served a meal. There are well over 36,000 homeless people in New York, compared to under 10,000 in San Francisco, which is known as the ‘homeless capital’ of the country.
I spent a couple of hours on Thursday at the Bowery Mission in the Lower East Side, an organization which has been helping New York’s homeless since 1879. The Bowery Mission’s kitchen was in overdrive on thanksgiving day; it cooked 500 turkeys and served 5,000 thanksgiving meals around the city. I served drinks and food to a group of around 100 needy New Yorkers in one of the 6 or 7 sittings held at the Lower East Side location. Along with a traditional thanksgiving meal, the organization also provided coats and clothing to those requesting them. It was a very impressive and organized operation especially considering that on an average day, The Mission provides around 900 meals rather than 5,000. In addition to offering food, shelter and clothing to the city’s homeless, the organization has a well established rehabilitation program to help men and women pick up their lives.
Although it didn’t feel like much, volunteering was a humbling experience that made me very grateful to be healthy, employed and have a strong support network of friends and family. As well as the fortune to enjoy a fantastic, slightly overindulgent, thanksgiving meal.