Sunday, June 29, 2008

Service in the Streets

This past weekend a small group of friends in manhattan decided to try sharing smiles by providing food to the homeless. It all starting with one member of our group noticing that there are so many restaurants in the city that have excess food left over after doing business and simply end up throwing it away. The thought was to get a few restaurants to agree to giving us the excess food and allowing us to give it to those that could use it.

The process turned out to be not that easy. Apparently there are laws in place preventing this type of work from happening. Because it is hard to manage the quality of food when it leaves restaurant premises, the city does not allow this type of service because they worry about someone getting sick from the food and suing the city or the restaurants.

Not to be deterred, one of our group-members somehow convinced a couple local restaurants to go against the grain in the name of service, and Saturday afternoon we were near the homeless shelter in midtown doing our best to hand out the gifts we received.

By the numbers, we gave out something in the neighborhood of 100 meals, but the process and the feeling associated with it was much different than our previous exploits with lemonade or cookies. It got us all thinking afterward.

The reactions ran the gamut. Some folks came out of shops and repeatedly said 'this is amazing, god bless you.' The first gentleman that we connected with actually just started crying, as we tried to connect with him as a person instead of creating a transaction. We were trying to not just come to bring food, but to help satiate the part of a person that is beyond food. We wanted to connect. We quickly found out that it just isn't that easy. One guy was trying to grab up as much as he could. When we asked him to share for the good of the whole, his exasperated response was 'I'm hungry… I see what you're doing, but I'M HUNGRY.' And so it was.

There was a desperation in the air, and it quickly went from an attempt to connect with new friends to an operation to efficiently dole out food as quickly as possible. When it was over, we were all left wondering why it felt so different compared to our experiences in central park, if all the smile cards that were handed out actually hit home at all, and if the process was simply a 'drop in the ocean.' Open-ended questions of course.

As for myself, while I certainly felt like the help we gave was relatively miniscule, I also think that there were a few folks that were less hungry because of it and that is good. Also, I think the internal process is really important here. The more I keep trying my best to give, the more I find opportunities to give. This was small in the big scheme of things. So what. Who knows where the ripples will go…

1 comment:

Guri Mehta said...

Hey B,

First of all, this is great...happy to see you guys trying different things.

We had a similar experience when we tried to do a clothing drive in S.F. The greed factor definitely comes in...hard to blame the homeless, it's just years of conditioning and not having anything. We eventually decided that that wasn't the best way to give out clothes. With food, it worked best when we had sandwiches, so we could offer one per person. Another thing that helped was going in small groups of 3-4 volunteers...we'd often sit down and eat with the homeless. That gave us a chance to focus on the experience more than the food. Food just became an excuse to connect at a little bit more deeper level.

Anyways, that's all for now. Hope all else is well.