At 6:30 a.m. on Saturday with a forecast of approximately 21 degrees, trucks filled with gloves, scarves and hats pulled up to the corner of Hancock Place and Morningside Avenue in Harlem. Volunteers laid out cartons of eggs and brown bags filled with Valentine’s Day treats on fold-out tables and Abdul’s Halal Cart parked on the corner to hot meals, free of charge, to those lining up.
Despite warnings from Mayor Bill de Blasio for New Yorkers to stay indoors to wait out the arctic blast sweeping the city this weekend, volunteers from StreetCorner Gourmets set up shop Saturday to give goods to those in need.
“We come rain or shine,” said Mary Lanning, president of YES!Solutions, Inc. “People have been standing in line all morning, they’re that hungry.”
is a program under the volunteer-based service organization,YES!Solutions, Inc., which provides food, back-to-school backpacks and other services to the poor, elderly, homeless and others. StreetCorner Gourmets offers services three times a year – Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
On Saturday, volunteers from the city, Connecticut, New Jersey and upstate New York met community members with smiles as they passed out food and warm clothing. Robert Kalland, a volunteer for 17 years said for him, giving back to the community brings him joy.
“Thanksgiving is ten times the size of this,” Kalland said, as he handed out hats to people. “We serve 2,200 dinners.”
Some people who lined up this Saturday said they were worried that the StreetCorner Gourmets wouldn’t come out this year because of the deep freeze, Lanning said. But nothing will stop them, she said, adding that they’ve come out in snow in the past.
As people waited in line, many huddled together and complained about the cold. Others hugged each other to keep warm. They seemed appreciative for the offerings. Lanning asked that NYCity Lens not speak with recipients, as she didn’t want to people to feel like their pain was being exploited.
As Lanning organized volunteers and assigned responsibilities, community members greeted Lanning by name and waved as they walked by.
Ken Stonitsch, Lanning’s nephew who has been coming to volunteer since he was a kid, said everyone knows Mary because of the work she’s done in the city. And he wasn’t the only member of Lanning’s family who had come to help. Her grandnephews were also braving the cold to hand out Valentine’s Day goodie bags filled with sweets. As the line of people grew around the corner, the temperatures had dropped to approximately 18 degrees.
“For us, volunteers, this is a happy day,” Lanning said. “For them, it’s another day in poverty.”
On Saturday night, temperatures plummeted to about seven degrees. The National Weather Service issued a wind chill advisory that went into effect on Saturday at 1 p.m. and remained in place until noon on Sunday. A Code Blue Weather Emergency notice was also issued meaning that anyone seeking shelter in New York City will not be denied a space. If someone is out in the cold, 311 should be called immediately and a team will be there to provide assistance.
How one street cleaner manages the bitter cold
By David Roza
In the freezing wind on Sunday morning, Times Square was not as lively as it usually is. Not a single Elmo or Spiderman patrolled between the empty red picnic tables and chairs near the Armed Forces Recruiting Station. The hat salesmen scattered under the glowing LED screens and spectacles sported heavy jackets and grim faces, because not many buyers were out on a Sunday in three-degree weather. A few tourists snapped selfies through thick mittens, but most people were trying to get out of the cold, not stay in it.
Which is why one man, calmly and methodically sweeping up cigarette butts outside the Nasdaq Market Site, stood out. His bright red uniform also caught the eye this Valentine’s Day.
“I don’t mind the cold that much,” said Alan Parker, 55, a street cleaner for the Times Square Alliance. “No, not at all. I stay busy. If I don’t stay busy then I’ll start complaining.”
Parker had been sweeping there since 5:30 in the morning, picking up the bits of litter cast away by the few people who were outside. While he was allowed to take breaks to warm up every 20 minutes, Parker explained that he preferred not to.
“We don’t have to stay outside in the cold like that, it’s dangerous,” he said. “Me, I go in every four hours because I can get more work done then going in and warming up. I look at it like that.”
He kept sweeping as he talked. “In the summertime this is the spot,” Parker said. “A lot of trash, so much that you can’t keep up with it. But you try to do the best you can, you can make a difference by doing work so that it doesn’t pile up.”
Cigarette butts make up most of that stuff piling up. “You might find a couple paper bags, tissues,” Parker said. “But the main thing is cigarette butts. They accumulate so you can’t leave them out here.”
Though Parker sees a lot of trash, he also finds a few treasures. He and his co-workers took pictures with celebrities walking through, like the boxer Bernard Hopkins and the rapper Vanilla Ice. On New Year’s Eve he handed out t-shirts and hats to the crowd. “I’ve lived in the city all my life,” said Parker, a Canarsie resident. “But it’s like every day is the first time I been here, because you never know what might happen.”
Picking up litter in the cold wouldn’t be most people’s first choice of work, but for Parker it’s a real pick-me-up. “People see us out here every day working hard and they appreciate us, they thank us” Parker said. “I wouldn’t ask for nothing better.”