For as long as I can remember, there’s been a myth going around about people starving in America. Don’t believe the hype – at least as far as Manhattan island goes. As a veteran volunteer of many different places, I can tell you beyond equivocation that the amount of food available free-of-charge to anyone who wants it is staggering. And if you think that the places that dispense this food are hurting for funds (like you might see in “The Last O.G.”), I got news.
Readily available at the Meatloaf Kitchen is a fold out map exhibiting no fewer than 140 locations in Manhattan alone where the hungry can eat for free (and 15 or so more where the 60+ crew can eat for a buck or two with their similarly aged homies). Let’s take Meatloaf as an example. Every Saturday, attendees are served a 1/4 pound of meatloaf along with salad, beans, a vegetable, all the bread they can eat and a cupcake. If that isn’t enough, they can reboot upstairs and do it all again as many times as they want. And if they can’t eat all that food in one sitting, they can haul the plate to the take-out table and have it bagged up for the road. Indeed, a few people go around and around half a dozen times and walk off with bags and pounds of food. But wait. That ain’t it! We also feature a pantry line which will often offer 3 pound pouches of tuna, big boxes of cereal, a pound of oatmeal or rice, and apples, pears and oranges.
Meatloaf sends out two mailings per year which brings in considerable cash from both individuals and organizations. Just last year, the boss spent $3000 to buy Meatloaf-insigniad hoodies at 10 bucks a shot to give to the guests free! This is not an organization hurting for money.
So you might ask “Where do these places get their food?” The bulk comes from Citiharvest and the Food Bank. Individual businesses (especially bakeries with day old bread) also contribute. And some stuff is purchased with the solicited funds. Two weeks ago we got so much eggplant at the pantry that we were giving out 6 of them to each person – in addition to their usual allotment. Last week it was cantalope. And this week it’s corn right off the farm. In each instance, the boss offered me as much as I want to take home as it would go to waste eventually. Still, we hand out over-the-hill produce hoping it will be consumed before it outright rots. The point: Produce in abundance is a fortunate fact of life in pantryville. It ain’t about trying to get enough. Often it’s about giving it out before it goes bad. That is the challenge.
And when it comes to pantry…this is a hustle the Chinese community knows all too well. I know from experience that people who take the time to sign on and show up are rewarded with some excellent food. Now think about what would happen if you signed on to every pantry you could find. Yup! It becomes a gig! I see the same faces all over the hood. And they’re big on take out meals and hitting every pantry available to them. How could they possible eat all that food? Answer: They don’t. It gets sold! Getting the picture? And let me tell y’all. If a little Chinese lady senses you’re soft, she’ll lobby hard for more than her share of food. I know it sounds racist but trust me… work a pantry line for just one day and you’ll get the picture. It is what it is.
Here’s a hot one for ya: Back when I was at St. Bart’s, we used to give out free coats twice a week during the winter. Some were crap. But others were surprisingly fashionable (Like North Face). And in good condition. Of course, I’d see the same faces getting coats over and over again and pointed this out to the boss suggesting there just might be an aftermarket for what we were dispensing.
“What would you have me do?” was his response. To which I observed “Nothing. I’m just a grunt. But I thought you might want to know.” The very next day, one of the volunteers who would walk home after leaving the church, recounted that one of the homeless attendees tried to sell him a coat before recognizing who he was pitching. Nice!
So when a homeless person asks you for money for food, don’t believe it. It’s for intoxicants the majority of the time. The homeless know where to get food in New York. And plenty of it. And they know where to get clothing as well – by the way. A decent place to live and go to the bathroom is a problem. This is New York. But food? Tons of it all over. And a lot of it goes to waste – which is a story for another day.