Help the city’s homeless — that’s what a team of teachers, parents and children from the Katmint Learning Initiative daycare center tried to do last Saturday in Bedford Stuyvesant. They handed out food packages they had prepared the day before and warm clothing outside a homeless men’s shelter in the neighborhood.
“Life is not easy, and it is important for [my daughter] to see how people less fortunate live,” said Jasmine Smith, the mother of one of the children at the center.
The food packages included peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit and water. The brown paper bags were adorned with notes by the children, featuring inspirational messages that include. “Never give up” and “We are here to help.”
Ten-year-old Kate McQueen said she came to “feed the homeless and make sure they didn’t go hungry and cold.”
The idea for the initiative that started in early December came from Andre Farrell, the director and founder of Bed-Stuy’s Katmint early learning center. He described how last November, he drove past a group of homeless people on a cold night and decided that he needed to do something. “I wanted to give back to my community to help them,” he said.
Farrell said he hopes the initiative will motivate the homeless to return and contribute to society, but he does not view the distribution of food and warm clothing as a solution to the homelessness problem in New York City. He encourages volunteers to bring their children to raise their awareness, empathy and philanthropy.
“I want the children to understand how blessed they are, to understand the needs of the homeless,” Farrell said.
Homelessness is on the rise in New York; it has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression. According to the Coalition for Homelessness, there were over 59,000 homeless people last November, including 14,000 homeless families with over 23,000 homeless children. Every night, thousands of homeless people sleep on the city’s streets, subways and public spaces. According to the census, there are 414 individuals living on the streets or in public spaces in Brooklyn, many of whom go without food every day. Last month, the mayor announced a new initiative to galvanize the city’s public services and governments to take action to help the homeless. One of the initiatives is turning 13 buildings in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, Brooklyn, into affordable housing through 2047.
The daycare’s initiative to feed the homeless is an attempt to contribute to the community’s homelessness problem. It is funded by donations from community members and parents of the children’s learning center. Farrell meets the shortfall personally in the weekly funding for the food. On average, the food costs $100 a week. The children hand out about 50 to 80 food packages every week to those in need. The initiative has expanded since it started to include donations of coats, hats and scarves.
Outside the homeless shelter on Saturday, James Brown, 55, said he was worried by what he was going to eat that night. When he saw the approaching group, however, he felt blessed. “This helps me knowing that people haven’t given up on what happens to us,” he said, collecting a coat and food bag from the children.
Another man, who calls himself Jay, lost his job 4 years ago and said he has since been living on the streets and sleeps in the park. When the weather worsened, he said he moved to the shelter. Placing his food package inside his jacket he said, it was the simple acts of kindness that people showed him that kept him going. He continued, eventually he hoped to return to work and find a place to live.
So far, the initiative has fed over 300 people. Farrell said they will continue throughout the winter. Anyone wanting to help prepare the food at the center on Fridays from 3 to 5 p.m. should contact the center.
Katmint also accepts bread, peanut butter, jelly and brown bags, along with lightly used coats, hats, gloves and scarves.
For further information, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 347-453-6609.