Love in the Time of Coronavirus: Lunches in Triangle Park

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.

What’s Going On: Triangle Park

What’s it like to help with NYAPC’s daily lunch program in Triangle Park?  So far there’s been great volunteer turnout, says Sam Obermyer, one of our Deacons. “We’ve also gotten a handful of volunteers from outside of church, which has been great to see.”

Sam and Phil
Setting Up: Sam Obermyer and Phil Telfeyan

Each week, the number of guests increases. “There is typically a line 15-20 people deep by 10:50 am,” Sam says, and keeping a 6-foot distance is sometimes tricky. Still, last week, more than half the guests had masks. (Want to help make masks? Contact revbeth.braxton@gmail.com.) Guests seem grateful and are mostly calm. Once they get their food, they leave to keep the number of people gathering down.

Monday through Saturday, Business Improvement District “red coats” hand out the meals, helped by five volunteers. A driver picks up lunches from José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen at Nats stadium, while another heats up food from the previous day in the fifth floor kitchen. The remaining volunteers act as greeters and bathroom escorts. One stays near the front desk, while others monitor bathrooms (one person at a time), run food to Triangle Park, or handle odd jobs. Last Monday, they collected trash cans from around the church for power washing later in the week. Sundays require additional volunteers to prepare and serve the food.

What might surprise you? The no-big-deal-ness of it. “It might not be the most exciting two hours of your week,” Sam said, but volunteers are both needed and appreciated! You can sign up here.

Trangle line
Guests begin to line up on a recent weekday morning.

Congregational Sunday: Mission Fair

20190929_102336Today, we celebrate your special participation in New York Avenue Presbyterian Church’s Stewardship Campaign for 2019 and 2020 – what impact you have made and will make on our programs and mission.

Sometimes just a bit of history can put how we got here to this Share Fair – and to our Stewardship Campaigns each year in perspective. Philanthropy and giving can be traced all the way back to Cotton Mather in 1662 who said “Let no man pretend to the name of a Christian, who does not approve the proposal of a perpetual endeavor to do good in the world.”

Voluntary charitable organizations established by religious groups originated in the colonial era and in the mid 1700s, Benjamin Franklin “trained” early Americans in giving for charitable causes and civic benefit.

Presbyterians as a domination were a major part of colonial life as far back as the colonial war. And in 1789 during our first General Assembly, our earliest national church members emphasized the connecting nature of our church and encouraged educational, missionary, evangelical and reforming work.  Outreach mission to Native Americans, African Americans and populations all over the world became a hallmark of the church. This broadened to women’s issues civil rights and other social justice issues along with diversity in congregations.

There is an inherent belief in our core values that giving transforms the giver, making meaningful contributions in the aggregate collectively makes a real difference in the life and expressions of true partnerships and making an impact, for our church and ourselves as members of Christ’s body.

Support of our mission as manifested in our spiritual nurture to us as members each Sunday assures continuous support in our daily lives and decision making; informs and reinforces our moral compass. In tandem, our support assures that staff and volunteer solidarity and mission outreach like you see represented here are expanded.  

Giving to churches by Americans continues to be the largest sector by far of all giving, more than 31% of the total given each year. We join hundreds of thousands of other Christians in supporting so altruistically the work of Christ in our own lives and in the lives of those we serve in our community and the world.

By your gifts your dedication, your thoughtful generosity, you make a difference at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Your gifts help us open our doors every day. Your gifts help support our very special ministers, and make our wonderful choir and music program, the Radcliff Room Ministry, Community Club, Cuba Partners, McClendon Center and McClendon Scholars, and Kenya Partnership living breathing impactful and beneficial programs that touch the lives of many every week, every month.

For the Stewardship Campaign, please join with us again for 2020 in making a profound difference in the world; we are grateful for all of you who have stepped forward thus far, and who give of your time and financial resources here.  

This church – and Christ’s love and work – provide strength and spiritual sustenance in your lives. Your generous giving reciprocally to this resource that helps so many not only provides invaluable financial partnership in our programs – but also provides incalculable well-being in our own hearts and minds, each day, all year.

Laura Brouse-Long, Stewardship Co-Chair20190929_100947

Come On In (by Angela Williams, YAV)

By Angela Williams, NYAPC’s Young Adult Volunteer

“Come on in, grab a cup of coffee. Take a seat and stay a while. You’ll hear stories you’ve never imagined.”

 

These are the words my friend Bobby* said to a group of tourists who stopped by a few Sundays ago to visit the historic New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. The women walked into the open doors of the Radcliffe Room during the height of our Sunday morning activity. They were seeking spaces where former Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John Quincy Adams worshiped. They likely wanted to take pictures of the iconic stained glass windows that line the walls of the sanctuary. When they walked into the first set of open doors, they likely did not expect to see almost 100 men and women experiencing varying levels of homelessness eating breakfast, drinking coffee, singing hymns, waiting in line for clothes, and fellowshipping with each other and volunteers.

 

I welcomed the women to our church but recognized that they likely did not come to New York Avenue to see the Radcliffe Room. I directed them to the front desk, which they could access either by staying on the sidewalk and entering the next set of doors or by walking through the Radcliffe Room, through the hustle and bustle of life happening in the space. They hesitated, and ultimately opted to leave the foyer and continue on to the main set of doors. Bobby welcomed the group but looked at me to say what we both knew would happen: they would go around. Bobby is one of our guests who doubles as a volunteer. 

 

When I started working in the Radcliffe Room seven months ago, I found my home in the clothing closet. Each Sunday, I arrive at 7:30 am and take the next forty-five minutes to prepare the men and women’s clothing closets while the other volunteers prepare the food. This involves hanging up whatever donations we received in the last week, bringing down supplies from our storage room three floors up, rolling the racks of women’s clothing out to the stage, our designated safe space for women, and arranging racks and bins so guests can easily navigate the spaces. That takes a lot of work, and I often found myself frustrated that I carrying the burden alone. Many guests would offer to help me out, but I always politely declined. I’m a YAV; I can do anything.

 

At some point, my usual helpers started showing up the same time I did, and I finally decided to surrender my self-sufficient ego to accept assistance from those I thought I was supposed to serve. All of a sudden, the burden seemed lighter, and my mood shifted. I could come to the Radcliffe Room every Sunday and be confident that the clothing closet would be ready to open at 8:15 thanks to the help of Bobby, Jaq*, Lee*, Darwin*, and many of the other guests who offer their hands every week.

 

In January, my supervisor, Jessica, and I read Toxic Charity by Bob Lupton, in preparation for the 2016 NEXT Church National Gathering, where he would be a keynote speaker. I found myself questioning my work and mission in church settings, particularly in the Radcliffe Room. Despite the critique he has received, his fundamental shift of how we approach mission resonated with me. Why not welcome guests who want to give back to the ministry? Why not welcome internal investment? Perhaps that was the nudge I needed to truly partner with our guests to blur that line between volunteer and guests, us and them.


At the NEXT National Gathering, 
Aisha Brooks-Lytle powerfully brought the Word, reminding all in attendance that we can’t go over it, can’t go below it, can’t go around it; we’ve gotta go through it. Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ also means that we have to be willing to accept it from others. Living out the Gospel requires us to get messy and be in real relationship with God’s beloved Creation. When we tell the story of a historical church, we can share tales of giants of the faith who advised Presidents, Congress, and the Supreme Court, but we should also include how the fabric of the church is intertwined with our neighbors in places without power. We are called to go through it in proximity with those who are poor, deprived, oppressed, marginalized, exploited, and suffering. The next time someone walks through the first open door, why don’t we invite them to come in, grab a cup of coffee, take a seat, and stay a while? We all may hear a story we never imagined.

 

*Names have been changed.