BY JON CRONIN
Through empathy, a sense of community and strong faith, Maspeth resident Crystal Wolfe has been coordinating the transfer of massive amounts of leftover food into the hands of those in need.
In December, she presented her idea of catering to the community’s local homeless population to Community Board 5 and, in the following weeks, launched the first version of her website, www.cateringforthehomeless.com.
On her website, caterers can list their events, and sites that operate food pantries or homeless shelters can then coordinate with the caterer to pick up leftovers after an event.
“Sometimes there’s tons of excess food,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe said she founded the website because she believed that she could do more than merely hand out an occasional dollar to a homeless person.
“I wanted to do something more than giving a dollar or making a sandwich,” she said. “It’s a cause of the heart. To me it’s the most critical issue.”
Wolfe said that one of the top reasons that people either lose or leave their home is domestic violence. As a Christian, she said she takes the teachings of her religion seriously and “taking care of people is the epitome of humanity.” She believes that many people are desensitized to the homeless and “ignoring them is dehumanizing them.”
She said she was initially outraged following her community’s response last August when a shelter for the homeless at the Maspeth Holiday Inn was announced. It was at this point that her mind started going into overdrive. She said she had long mulled over the idea of Catering for the Homeless and, last year, obtained a website domain. A friend then helped her to create the site.
Wolfe, who moved to New York City from Indiana two and a half years ago and then to Queens a few months ago, was heartbroken by the plight of those having to stay in local hotels.
“I just have a heart for the homeless,” she said.
While brainstorming about what she could do, she remembered that when she had worked for caterers in the past, they often threw out hundreds of dollars worth of food after events.
“It is all the best-quality food,” she said. “They’ll try to give it to servers and anyone who wants to take it home.”
Now that her ideas are coming to fruition, Wolfe said she is focusing on getting the word out. In the first month after launching the website, she visited local parishes, handed out fliers and talked to community activists, city agencies and nonprofit homeless advocates.
She is now hoping that people will get on board and log on to the site. In the first few weeks of the site’s existence, she has already been contacted by several nonprofits. However, there has not been much follow-through as of yet.
Wolfe said she’s hoping that her idea could be picked up nationally, but that it could be expanded to also help families who are on the brink of homelessness.
The New York Rescue Mission was the first group to get on board. Becca Lee, a Rescue Mission spokeswoman, has given Wolfe permission to add the foundation on to her website’s “team of participants.”
Wolfe said she has had some success during the past two months by partnering with her church. The Community United Methodist Church of Middle Village has a food distributor that services several different entertainment studios and catering companies.
Wolfe has started picking up food from the distributor once or twice a week and feeding people at the church on Sunday.
“We’re trying to get the word out to the community that we’ve started a soup kitchen at the church on Sundays at 1 p.m. and we also started a food pantry,” she said.
Wolfe’s pastor, Reverend Delores Barrett, praised her parishioner’s efforts thus far.
“This young lady is a sure blessing to the community at large,” Barrett said. “Her zeal, determination and compassion for the less fortunate is earth-shattering and totally inspired by the God she serves.”
Wolfe and the church are also trying to find a home for fellow parishioner Geraldine Gromwaldt, who lost her home two years ago when her longtime partner, George, died and she was no longer able to afford her home without the dual income. Gromwaldt works as a cleaning woman, has a small Social Security payment and is trying to get government assistance. Wolfe set up a donation page at www.youcaring.com/geraldinegromwaldt-758260. So far, it has raised $2,867.
Wolfe and other volunteers from her church pick up food in Queens and Brooklyn at different sites that the food distributor services. They bring the food back to the church in Middle Village and two other local houses of worship. Wolfe said there is a third church that is planning to create a shelter for the elderly and has committed to using her service once they do.
She has also begun petitioning the city to let her serve meals at local hotel shelters.
“You don’t even want to know the amount of calls, visits and effort I’ve made the last five weeks trying to speak to the right people to give me the green light on this,” she said. “I am hoping that I will be able to serve regular meals at the Holiday Inn Express Shelter for the men there on Monday nights.”
Wolfe said she likes to stay busy and is confident of her ability to put in the time it takes to get her project off the ground and launch new ones.
“I’m also working on a book for the homeless [that] I am going to self-publish as soon as it’s done,” she said.
She said she would eventually like to see Catering for the Homeless have a smartphone app through which caterers can sign in when they want to make their leftovers available after an event.
“It would make it a lot easier for everyone,” she said of the proposal.
Wolfe said that she admires Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to keep the homeless off the streets, although she does not believe that placing the homeless in hotels is ideal.
“He’s literally the only politician working for the homeless,” she said. “He’s a superhero to me. It’s about doing the right thing, whether it’s popular or not.”
Wolfe said she believes that the more a person engages with the homeless, the more that person will help to break down the myths surrounding them.
Reach Jon Cronin at 718-357-7400 x125, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JonathanSCronin.