Villager photo by Robert Kreizel
Volunteers at Most Holy Redeemer Church’s soup kitchen get meals ready for distribution.
Volunteers are a key ingredient for soup kitchen
By Robert Kreizel
Mother Teresa once said, “We sometimes feel that what we do is just a drop in the ocean, but the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”
Every Saturday at noon, after we open the doors at Most Holy Redeemer Church, on E. Third St., to feed our hungry guests, you can see smiles on their faces, ranging from small children to senior citizens, as they are greeted by a friendly volunteer and handed a hot meal and a cup of coffee.
“When I started helping out, it was because I used to run the Religious Education program on Saturdays,” said longtime volunteer Margaret Flanagan. “I missed doing something to give back to my parish. But feeding the hungry helps me to be connected to my community — more now than ever.”
Another volunteer, Odie Zaluski, a second-year law associate at a prominent Manhattan law firm, still manages to find the time to volunteer, even after a six-day workweek.
“I’ve been volunteering at this soup kitchen since I moved to New York five years ago,” Zaluski said. “I’ve been lucky to work with such a great group of kind people, many of whom have become my great friends over the years. My favorite thing about working at the soup kitchen has always been the people in line. And I love my role at the end of our lunch-making assembly line: handing out the trays of hot food and interacting with all the people, shake some hands, thank them for coming, say hi to the little kids, and try to make sure no one goes home hungry. It’s a richly rewarding and genuinely enjoyable experience.”
Each year from November to the end of April, a dozen or so volunteers at Most Holy Redeemer make that small but important difference.
The soup kitchen volunteers’ efforts aren’t lost on Father Charles McDonald, the church’s pastor.
“There is one thing I have noticed about all of you, Saturday after Saturday: You guys are like a Bible in shoes,” McDonald told me. “You proclaim what the Scriptures teach through your example and your cheerful service.”
For half a year, volunteers give up most of their Saturday mornings preparing and serving an average of 200 hot, cooked meals with love.
Today, more than 15 years since the soup kitchen’s start, its main grassroots supporters are members of the local Hispanic community. Omaiara Graziani, in her late 60s, has been one of the longtime volunteers and great inspirations ever since my wife, Tamara, and I started helping at the soup kitchen 10 years ago. Even after various health problems and following a four-alarm fire in 2004 that destroyed her apartment and possessions at 42 Avenue B, Omaira has hardly missed more than a handful of Saturday soup kitchens.
Other soup kitchen volunteers have also suffered health or financial problems, yet continue to be motivated by a sense that everyone should have enough to eat and be treated with dignity and respect.
Members bring diverse backgrounds, including an artist-teacher and two attorneys. Working together, longtime friendships have blossomed.
Tamara and I took over managing the program eight years ago when the soup kitchen was being run by Jim Reagan, a lay missionary who was living at Most Holy Redeemer.
Reagan, who now lives and works at the Catholic Worker on E. Second St., continues to be our good friend and a selfless example of caring for people and community.
The soup kitchen during the past two years has seen a significant increase in volume due to the economy. We served 4,050 meals this year and expect those numbers to continue to rise. (We don’t serve meals during the summer, because it’s harder to get volunteers then.) If you are interested in volunteering or making a food or monetary donation, please contact me, Bob Kreizel, at 212-573-4888.