Years ago, my older sister started working at a food bank, Project Hospitality, to get volunteer credit. She ended up going almost every weekend, and once she graduated college, she found her way back. My family’s been involved with volunteering efforts for as long as I can remember — from Hurricane Sandy relief to local charity runs, we’ve all endeavored to give back to the community however we can. A few weekends ago I went back to Staten Island and joined my sister on one of her weekly visits to the shelter.
We were met by a woman, Danielle, who showed me the ropes of food preparation and distribution. Melanie — my sister — and I brought chicken cutlets and pudding from home, which Danielle graciously accepted. She told me about how some people will try to steal food from each other and how we had to remember the faces of each person that stopped by. I was so nervous that at one point, I accidentally spilled some Jell-O packets. Danielle laughed, saying she’d done something similar back when she first started working at Project Hospitality. Nevertheless, I was put on counter duty from then on.
Now I was able to look at and talk to everyone filtering through the shelter. They were very nice and grateful for the food they were given: hearty samples of chicken cutlet, mashed potatoes, green beans, and Jell-O for desert. I was told that the entire upstairs section of the Project was a part-time homeless shelter, aiding those they could find with food, a bed, and a shower to clean themselves. After an unspecified amount of time, they’d be asked to leave to make room for more people filtering in. I thought it seemed a bit callous to kick people who need help out to the curb, but Danielle, for all her contentment with her job, seemed weary and in need of a good night’s rest. I realized there’s only so much service the Project could offer, and I wished there was more that could be done to help Danielle and the other staff members.
Sponsored efforts like Dine Out, a campaign where certain restaurants give 20% of their proceeds to Project Hospitality, help to keep the Project from becoming obsolete. Successful as it is, Dine Out isn’t enough, and my experience has made me increasingly aware of the necessity for better funding in homeless care. According to Feeding America, in 2015 13.5% of people were in poverty, and 13% of households were food insecure. Staten Island’s own poverty rates are at 14.5%, slightly above the national average. Giving back to the community is vital to our continued living experience, and when I left Danielle and Project Hospitality behind, I was sure that wouldn’t be the last time I’d see her or the Project.