First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem is once again pulling off an impossible annual feat — a feast for 1,000 Harlem neighbors who might not have anywhere else to go.
And they do it without a commercial kitchen.
The church, which recently hit 10,000 members, hosts an annual Thanksgiving dinner with more than 100 volunteers ready to serve food to make sure no one in the neighborhood goes hungry.
On Monday evening, volunteers sat in the church's pews and recieved instructions for the big day. Anyone who shows up is given the option of a sit-down dinner at tables with white linens and uniform menus, or a to-go option. Servers are to dress in all black and wear a white bow tie, the clean up crew is allowed a more relaxed attire, and parishioners are instructed to only serve their designated two hour shifts. After that, if they're compelled, they can continue flyering the neighborhood to make sure everyone who needs a meal gets one.
“People don’t realize that central Harlem is being re-imagined as a renaissance, and in the midst of all the development and building taking place, there is still an undercurrent of poverty and issues around food security,” said Pastor Michael A. Walrond, Jr. “And that is real for a large section of Harlem, no matter how it looks to many who feel Harlem is the new place to be. [Many] people don’t think there’s a crisis, and it’s paradoxical in some ways, because many people are struggling.”
Walrond said the church, in addition to a food pantry program, offers free breakfast to about 1,000 children a week before school.
A Food Bank for New York City report released on Monday, called "Hunger Cliff NYC," found 90 percent of city food pantries had more visitors in September 2015 than the same month in 2013, and more than a quarter increased operating hours.
Nearly half of all city pantries reported they ran out of food and reduced the number of meals because of the scarcity, which is in part attributed to the 2013 SNAP cuts.
Lauren Chesley, 31, who joined the church in April, is volunteering on Thursday.
“Thanks. Giving. It’s the essence of the day,” Chesley said. “This is one of the first Thanksgivings that I’m in New York City, a place of need. Where I’m from [Minneapolis] you don’t really see it.
Austin Bonds, 27, who works in finance, said he has attended the church for four years and has spent the last three Thanksgivings volunteering.
“It’s a really humbling experience to serve people who are underserved, and people in general. The genuine smiles ... some people cry, we engage and have conversations and invite people to eat with us."
First Corinthian Baptist Church is located at 1912 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd. in Harlem. The church starts serving Thanksgiving meals at noon on Thursday and all are welcome.