by Phil Telfeyan
For 152 days, volunteers at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church have helped feed Washingtonians who live without a home. More than 35 volunteers have participated in our lunch program over the past five months. Our volunteers have come from our longstanding Radcliffe Room ministry, our deacons, and many newcomers wanting to help in a time a great need.
In total, we have put in over 1400 hours of volunteer time. We have received over 24,000 donated meals from World Central Kitchen and over 13,000 meals from the Downtown Business Improvement District. Now, after five months, our program is coming to an end because the donated food from World Central Kitchen is stopping (although the BID will continue to distribute daily).
Our model was improvised: We set up a line of tables in Triangle Park, seven days a week. Guests enter at one side, where they wash their hands at a portable hand-washing station with soap and water. They get a towel to dry, a mask if they don’t have one, and hand-sanitizer as well. Then guests pick up water, juice, and a bag of lunch. On Sundays, we also have coffee, lemonade, bagels, sandwiches, underwear, clothes, and toiletries.
Our mission is decades old: For over 45 years, volunteers in the Radcliffe Room has offered food, coffee, clothing, and fellowship for more than 100 homeless guests every Sunday.
Generations of volunteers have shown us that radical hospitality requires offering love and compassion not just to those we know well, but to those we have yet to know. In our society, people experiencing homelessness lack more than housing; they often lack social connections, family, and — most important of all — friendship.
Choosing between love and fear: Coronavirus has caused great fear in many, and fear can often direct us inward, causing us only to think about ourselves and those closest to us. People who live on the streets in Washington know the feeling of being ignored; we didn’t want them to feel ignored this time.
The choice between love and fear is a daily choice. It’s a choice we each make for ourselves, but its stakes are often higher in times of great difficulty. So while we helped give food to thousands of people, we got something even more valuable in return.