The Bowery Mission on the Lower East Side hosted its annual Thanksgiving meal service yesterday, and saw their biggest turnout yet, according to Director James Winans. They had pre-registered 700 volunteers online, and did not yet have a final count of the walk-in volunteers, of which he said there were many.
Darren Poindexter, either 45 or 48 (he was unsure), lives at a nearby shelter and came for the Thanksgiving meal around midday. It was his first time at the Bowery Mission, he said.
"They treated me very well," he said, lingering on his way out. "Real nice, like I was a human being."
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He sifted through the bag they handed him on his way out, pointing to the coat, winter gloves and hat inside.
The staff at the Mission had planned to serve 1,500 meals at this location, and 5,000 total in all five boroughs. By early afternoon, they were well on their way. One of the other locations had estimated they'd serve 400 meals that day, and had already given out nearly that many.
Food preparation started last weekend, and they had been cooking around the clock since, Winans said. Shipments of prepared food had been distributed all week to the various locations around the five boroughs where Thanksgiving meals would be served.
This year, they hosted a special Thanksgiving meal in a church parking lot in Far Rockaway, complete with a decorated tent, tablecloths and centerpieces, for the residents there who had been devastated by Hurricane Sandy and only just got power two days ago, after three weeks without any heat, hot water or electricity.
Brian Johansson, another director at the Mission, was out in the Rockaways for most of the day, where he said a disaster relief team in from Florida had helped them serve food to the neighborhood, even delivering meals directly to the upper floors of the housing development across the street.
As of 2:30pm they had served 800 meals in the Rockaways. They planned to continue serving until about 4 p.m.
They had established a relationship with the church hosting the event through donations they had delivered since the storm, of cleaning supplies, diapers, clothes, and myriad other necessities for the storm-stricken residents of the Rockaways. The people at the church asked the Bowery Mission to come host Thanksgiving for the locals.
"I guess we have a reputation for putting on a good meal," Winans said.
The men of the Bowery Mission
The Bowery Mission offers a six-month residential program, geared at getting people who have fallen on hard times back on their feet. Some 80 men sleep in the shelter regularly, until they graduate from the program. The residents serve the meals that the Mission offers three times everyday.
One of the residents who did not want to disclose his name, as his family does not know he is living in a shelter, had been at the Mission for three weeks, since the Friday after Hurricane Sandy swept through the city. He was brought in by one of the vans in the Mission's outreach program, and had been living "around, uptown, in the Washington Heights area," he explained.
"Whenever you need a helping hand, New York City will help you," he insisted. "People choose to be homeless because they want to be homeless."
Christopher Phillips, another resident of the Mission, is in his fifth month in the six-month residential program. A Brooklyn native, he returned to the city in July after 32 years in North Carolina. Recently, he'd found it impossible to find a job in North Carolina, and had always missed New York.
"I prayed about moving back," he said, "I and felt yes."
He found out about the Bowery Mission when he looked up shelters online.
"I have missed New York for a long time," he said. "Plus, I've always been a Yankees fan, and a Giants fan."