Responding to the Presence of the Holy

Fr. Adam Bucko reflects on the origin of our Spirituality & Justice project “Operation Feed the Front”

When Michael Sniffen, one of the co-founders of the Center for Spiritual Imagination, was asked on Bill Moyers’ show in 2013 how he helped to start the mutual aid network known as Occupy Sandy during one of the biggest natural disasters that New York City had experienced in decades, he replied: “I simply opened the doors of my church and let people in.” Out of that simple act of discerning the holy happening in his midst grew a network of 60,000 volunteers. These volunteers provided support to New Yorkers that had been without electricity, water, and food for months because the government was unable to respond in time.

Occupy Sandy at the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Brooklyn. Photo credit: DNAinfo/Janet Upadhye

The story of “Operation Feed the Front,” our food redistribution program, is similar. In the fall of 2019, we began organizing students at Adelphi University around the theme of Meditation and Justice. We started with a group of 15 or so students and faculty who met once a week to practice contemplative prayer and explore some of the important questions that college students face: How does one discover life’s groundedness in times of environmental degradation, systemic racism, income inequality, and widespread hopelessness? How does one develop a sense of meaning and purpose in a world where the bright future for young adults is no longer ensured?

The group attracted many students, including those who didn’t fit into traditional religious environments, who struggled with the religious identities into which they were born, who had questions about their gender and sexual orientation, students who were immigrants or who, for the first time, were trying to envision how to survive as young people of color in predominantly white spaces. The explorations were deep. There was a felt sense that the group needed to take the next step and move beyond talking about a “better world” and begin to live into the possibility of it.

Fr. Adam Bucko with Adelphi students who began the food distribution effort

It was then that an international student from Zimbabwe told us how the university was throwing out hundreds of perfectly fine, often organic, pre-packaged meals shortly before they expired, and how in response, she and two of her friends had been doing their best to distribute the food to shelters and to people who struggled with food insecurity. The project was unmanageable, however. There was simply too much work for a couple of full-time students with part-time access to a single car.

This is where the Center for Spiritual Imagination came in. When we heard about this beautiful effort, we couldn’t help but respond. Within days, we began regularly packing our bus with hundreds of reclaimed food items and parking it in a neighborhood known for food insecurity. We distributed food and more importantly, we began building relationships with neighbors in the area. We didn’t design or begin this project. We simply responded to the presence of the holy in how our students felt guided to serve.

An Adelphi student loading food onto the Center’s bus for distribution

Much has happened since those early days of Meditation and Justice. The weekly group became an accredited class at Adelphi, and the food effort became a follow-up tutorial for the class. Both of these programs now offer students a chance to develop a contemplative practice and explore sacred activism, commiting to an integration of their contemplative practice with just action on the streets.

This work expanded exponentially during the COVID pandemic with the partnership of several local commercial kitchens, restaurants closed to the public and volunteer drivers from the Cathedral of the Incarnation. Some weeks we were able to serve as many as 2,000 meals to healthcare workers fighting on the frontlines of the pandemic. After the spring COVID surge abated in New York, we shifted to distributing anywhere from a dozen to 600 meals a week to those facing hunger because of homelessness, loss of income, or simple bad luck. The program continues to evolve as we respond to the changing economic effects of the pandemic, which experts remind us will be with us for decades to come.

Today we are asking all of our contemplative friends to support this project. We are asking you to support us with prayers and/or a financial contribution that can help us continue to show up and provide nutritious meals to people who otherwise may have limited access to food. We’re asking you to support our young people who felt they had to do what they were called to do, even in the midst of a pandemic. This is not only a time to pray on our meditation cushions but also a time to pray with our feet and hands and wallets.

How to get involved:

Pray for Feed the Front

Pray for this project and for those we serve who are facing food insecurity.

Donate to Feed the Front

You can donate online at the Center for Spiritual Imagination’s website by selecting the fund “Operation Feed the Front”. You can make a one-time donation or commit to a recurring donation. You can also donate by mailing a check to the Center for Spiritual Imagination, c/o Kris Vieira, 36 Cathedral Ave, Garden City, NY 15530. Please write “Feed the Front” in the memo of the check.

Serve with Feed the Front

If you are in the central Long Island area, are not health compromised and feel safe to serve God’s people in the street, please contact our Director of Outreach, the Rev. Deacon Denise Galloway at dgalloway@incarnationgc.org

Deacon Denise Galloway at a food distribution site