Just before Thanksgiving, BMCC students dished out mashed potatoes and turkey as volunteers for the Soup Kitchen at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Times Square.
For many of them, this was part of a continuum of giving back.
“I volunteered through my high school in El Salvador with food and clothing drives,” says Ana Alas, a Liberal Arts major and Out-in-Two Scholar who moved to New York in 2010. “Later I did some volunteering with the NYPD Auxiliary through my local precinct and volunteered for the New York Food Bank through BMCC.”
She recommends volunteering, for a lot of reasons.
“it’s important because it helps you connect with people,” she says. “You understand more closely how others feel. It makes you be a more humane being. That’s also part of why I want to study economics, and focus on equality development.”
Being of use in the world
Andre Tialdo Bambare, Acting Parish Administrator for St. Luke’s Church, coordinates the soup kitchen and other parish activities.
A former Vice Chaplain of the University of Yaoundé in the Republic of Cameroon, he moved from the West African country of Burkina-Faso in 2011—and has a global perspective on the importance of public service.
“We sometimes really need help from the volunteers at St. Luke’s,” he said as the church basement filled on that day before Thanksgiving. “Every Tuesday and Thursday our soup kitchen is open. We usually serve from 150 to 200 meals, but today we are going to have up to 300 people coming.”
He welcomes not only volunteers for the soup kitchen, but donations of clothing.
“On the first Monday of the month, our clothing bank is open. Usually 60 to 80 people show up for clothes, including children. Clothing donations, especially job interview clothes, are welcome.”
Learning to serve
“I remember the first group from BMCC,” says Bambare. “They were so surprised to see how many people we were feeding. They tell me, ‘We see one person begging for food in the street, but we didn’t realize there are so many people who need food’. They are also learning to serve, that they can be useful in the world, and not just as students.”
Mary Quezado, Student Advisor and Out-in-Two Coordinator in BMCC’s Academic Advisement and Transfer Center, agrees that students benefit from volunteering.
“Last semester we delivered Meals on Wheels to the elderly and students were very affected to see the living conditions that some of them lived in,” she says. “Volunteering is a requirement for Out-in-Two students, and they learn that receiving a grant is not just about the money, it’s about giving back to the community.”
All volunteers welcome
Gilda Matthews, an Out-in-Two student and Business Administration major, aspires to be a financial advisor and was just admitted to Baruch College, where she’ll begin classes in January 2013.
“I wish everyone sitting at home knew how to reach out to volunteer,” she says. “I learned how it’s done, at BMCC, and I’m hoping at Baruch I’ll be able to do it on my own.”
Pastor Paul Schmiege has been leading the congregation at St. Luke’s since 2000. “Volunteers will often repeat, come back once or twice a month to help out,” he says, and stresses that volunteers of all faiths are welcome.
“We separate the church’s religious mission from the social services we provide. We have Muslims, Jews and Christians in our community, so we think it’s important to do that.”
Going beyond “crisis relief”
Pastor Schmiege also makes the point that the presence of volunteers, and even the generous donation of food from Driscoll Foods through a United Way Grant, does not mean all the world’s problems are fixed.
“What we’re doing here is crisis relief,” he says. “Soup kitchens are crisis programs that deal with symptoms of much larger issues. What we’d like to do more of at St. Luke’s is connect clients to social services they need. The FPWA [Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies] provides some facilities and social service interns, and for us, that’s an important next step. Besides giving people a hot meal, we really want to see them get off the street.”
For more information on donating to the clothing bank or volunteering in the soup kitchen at St. Luke’s Church, go to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212-246-3540.