For a decade, hundreds of volunteers from a Greek Orthodox church have carpooled every month to New York City, where they set up an outdoor dining room to feed dozens of homeless.
Packing as much food, clothing and toiletries as possible into four or five cars, volunteers from the Holy Trinity Church in New Rochelle show up in Midtown Manhattan on the last Thursday of each month to distribute dozens of meals for those in need.
In order to document their efforts, Despina Kartson, an NY-based marketing executive, author and philanthropist, recently published Last Night’s Soup Run — a new book that tells the stories of the many homeless men and women who have benefitted from the church’s outreach program.
“We show respect and compassion to our guests on the street and offer them a bit of sustenance for their bodies and non-judgmental conversations to nourish their hearts,” she said.
Explaining her book’s title, Kartson said that the morning after every soup run she sends an email called “Last Night’s Soup Run” to volunteers and supporters. In her email, she summarizes highlights from the previous evening, offering glimpses into the lives of the homeless served.
Accordingly, Kartson’s book compiles dozens of emails and diary entries from the volunteers who, bound together by their faith and determination not to look the other way, have fed more than 10,000 people while also handing out thousands of clothing items.
In their own words, the volunteers tell stories about the homeless in a way that engages readers and highlights the humanity of an often overlooked group in society.
The book’s narratives touch upon a diverse array of people, such as a former culinary institute-trained sous chef who now does magic tricks in Central Park just to make ends meet.
Some parts focus on those struggling with mental illness, including an Iraqi war veteran traumatized by the tragic death of his wife and children in a house fire, or a victim of domestic violence who lost her home and had no option but to live in a shelter.
The volunteer movement has not only turned into a book, but also led Kartson to found Philoxenia, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide funding and support for organizations that feed the hungry and care for the homeless.
Kartson said that — even after 10 years — the church’s volunteers have never been asked to leave their monthly spot on the corner of 33rd Street and 7th Avenue across from Madison Square Garden.
“Police and security guards have stopped by to see what we were doing,” she said. “And they have never asked us to pack up our tables or to move our cars.”
Kartson’s book “Last Night’s Soup Run” is available on Amazon, and she said all proceeds will go toward Philoxenia.
“The homeless have taught me that they are no different than you or me and that they deserve to be treated with compassion and respect,” she said. “It is my wish that all who read ‘Last Night’s Soup Run’ will find it in their hearts to serve the hungry in whatever way they are most comfortable.”
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