BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
With Thanksgiving just one week away and the holidays right around the corner, food pantries and non-profit organizations in Queens are encouraging others to volunteer or share extra food to help feed the borough’s homeless.
Crystal Wolfe, founder of Catering for the Homeless, said that she attempts to connect catering companies and restaurants to organizations that distribute their excess food to the homeless and people in need within their communities.
“Billions of pounds of food is thrown away each day by restaurants and catering companies, so I connect them with churches and shelters so that way the food isn’t going to waste and those who need it, receive it,” said Wolfe. “Homeless people on the street are pretty destitute, so it’s important to give and show respect because they’re going through a tough time.”
Wolfe said that in food pantries and churches, donated food items often go to people who work, but find themselves struggling to eat since most of their income goes toward rent and bills.
Pedro Rodriguez, the director of La Jornada at St. George’s Church in Flushing, said that for nine years, he has served people of different religions, races and demographics during the holidays.
La Jornada provides food to more than 10,000 people in a month, a majority of whom live in the Flushing area.
As new large-scale developments are built in the area, rents have been increasing and resulting in a higher homeless population, Rodriguez said.
La Jornada launched with a Thanksgiving dinner that Rodriguez hosted for local residents in need. As a result of the turnout, he created La Jornada and now not only provides free food to those in need, but continues to host a Thanksgiving feast that draws members of the community in a style similar to the original meal between the Pilgrim colonists and Wampanoag Indians.
“Everyone comes together under one roof, talks and enjoys dinner, the same way that family does,” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said that although the holidays are typically a time when people choose to volunteer at shelters and pantries, he believes that it is important for people to help each other year-round.
George Csonka, founder of Astoria’s Ziki Bar NYC, said that he migrated from Hungary 18 years ago and spent much of his life poor. As a result of his success with the Ziki Bar, he said that he chooses to give back to people in need.
“I’m not rich, but I’m OK—and it’s allowed me to think back to my roots when I was once in need and give to people,” said Csonka.
Csonka said that, each year since he moved to the United States, he has invited people in need to his home for a piece of turkey during the holidays.
Today, Csonka and his staff at Ziki Bar, which is less than 300 square feet, provide the meals, plates, utensils and care to serve people in need in Astoria.
This year, Ziki Bar is collaborating with the Landing Family Shelter, located at 94-00 Ditmars Blvd. in East Elmhurst, to provide homeless people with a hot Thanksgiving meal from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
The Department of Homeless Services encourages those interested in volunteering at a homeless shelter or to assist with delivering homeless services to visit https://www.nycservice.org/search/#s and searching “Homeless and Housing.”
“Whether by volunteering or donating, we welcome communities that want to give back and are committed to working with interested community members to ensure their efforts and energies are most effectively directed to improve quality of life for New Yorkers in need,” said DHS Spokesman Isaac McGinn.