Grace Community Feeds Thousands
Grace Church Community Center will serve close to
100,000 meals to hungry Westchester residents this year.
White Plains Patch, November 30, 2010
By: T.J. Raphael
Various organizations serve the needy by providing them family-style meals during the holidays. Yet, only a few feed the hungry all year round.
Grace Church Community Center offers hungry Westcheseter residents a place to sit and enjoy a warm free meal—at the Grace Episcopal Church? soup kitchen— five days a week . This vital service is offered to area residents who struggle on a daily basis with a task most don't think twice about: finding a plate of food to fight hunger pains.
"I love my job," said Yonkers resident Ana Ayala, 50, who has worked in the soup kitchen five days a week for the last 10 years. "It makes you feel good even though you see people who are down on their luck. They're feeling good [because they get a meal]."
This year the GCCC will serve more than 3,000 residents and 100,000 meals through its programs and services. Some meals will be delivered to the home bound. About 30,000 of these meals will be served through GCCC's soup kitchen where no one is ever turned away. About 15 percent or 4,000 meals will be served during the holidays.
When White Plains Patch recently visited the soup kitchen more than a dozen tables were mostly empty with about 20 people scattered throughout the space eating chicken noodle soup and plates of rice and meatloaf.
On any given weekday 50 to 125 people will walk down the twisting halls of the church to sample what could be their only meal of the day.
"Before the recession we would only get about 40 to 50 [people] a day," Ayala said. Since the economy worsened in 2007 the number of those seeking assistance everyday has almost doubled. "Between 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. we get big crowds. So far 80 people have come in and it's not even 11:30 a.m.," Ayala said.
GCCC emphasizes that the people seeking assistance are likely to be men and women who are unable to find jobs, recent immigrants, retired persons and others who just can't make ends meet. The church offers some startling statistics on poverty in the county. Although Westchester is one of the most affluent counties in the nation a "persistent pocket of poverty," as GCCC's website puts it, still exists.
"Westchester's per capita homeless rate is twice that of New York City," GCCC's website said. "Cost of living adjustments put Westchester's poverty line at $30,000 for a family of four, but individuals earning $8.00 per hour for a 40-hour week—well above New York's $6.75 per hour minimum wage—still only make $16,640 annually."
The Food Bank of Westchester estimates there to be 200,000 men, women and children in Westchester who are hungry or at risk of going hungry and that one-in-five receive some type of food assistance.
GCCC also provides a variety of other vital services to Westchester's needy in addition to healthy meals.
"We give them [visitors] clothes, shoes and toys," Ayala said. According to the GCCC website, "The soup kitchen also provides donated clothing and toiletries to individuals on a regular basis. Every winter, warm clothing such as coats, hats and gloves are set out on a table in the parish hall and clients are invited to help themselves to anything they need."
See GCCC's website for their full list of services, which include housing, summer camp and mentoring for homeless and hungry individuals.
"I like helping people. I try not to get upset, because we try to help them. When they need to get social services we point them in that direction," said Magdalena "Maggie" Serrano, 38, of Port Chester who works int the soup kitchen.
When asked what she likes most about her job, Serrano said, "Everything. I love everything and I like working with everyone."
GCCC also offers other basic life necessities to less fortunate locals in adititon to food and shelter: friendship and love.
"Another less tangible benefit of the soup kitchen is the provision of companionship and compassion for the needy in a safe, secure environment,"GCCC's wesbsite said. "Individuals who come to the soup kitchen often stay after they have finished their meal to chat with friends and to enjoy the sense of camaraderie that is missing from so many of their lives."
"Everyone is good and everyone gets along with everybody," said Burnette Kirkland, 40, of Mamaroneck, who works as a security guard at the kitchen.
Donations from local restaurants, grocery stores and individuals help to make this kind of aid possible. Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, the Hitchcock Church, Israel Temple and Helping Hands of Rye donate a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and meat along with juices and snacks.
GCCC is asking indivudals to start local food drives by contacting Alice Conrad at 914.438.7690. The food drives will supplement the thousands of meals served on Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
Financial donations—even a $5 donation—can be made at GCCC's website.
Volunteers are needed to serve food at the soup kitchens. Contact Maggie Serrano at 914-949-2874 ext. 24 for more information.
Soup Kitchen Hours/Locations
Grace Church Community Center's soup kitchen—at
33 Church St., White Plains, NY—is open on holidays and during the week from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Open Arms men's shelter—at 86 East Post Rd., White Plains, NY—serves an evening meal at 5:45 p.m. and lunch on the weekends at noon.