Many nights, the homeless who we know from the breadline sleep on the steps and sidewalks of the church. On cold nights, small cardboard boxes with just enough room for a single person’s body line the sidewalks as makeshift bedrooms. I don’t know how they do it, but I’m told that newspaper makes for a warm covering. By 7am, when the breadline starts, the boxes are stacked away and there is no evidence that our streets resembled a modern-day Hoover Ville. Most of the people on their way to work from Penn Station have no idea that just an hour before, four hundred or so men and women are being fed.
Many nights I spend time outside talking with these men and women as they construct their makeshift beds or put up their pup tents. These are some of the most interesting people that I meet during my day. Some folks are junkies; others suffer from PTSD from having served in the recent wars, while some others are just plain down and out on their luck. And if you think that these people are inferior or uneducated or weak, think again. Regularly, we have an MD, a Navy Seal, many vets, an accountant and numerous men who, in better times, worked on Wall Street. It is surprising, but it is a fact that many or most of the people who come to our daily breadline are not any different than you and I. Maybe they are a little rough around the edges and more street smart but still like us in almost every way. The only difference really is, we hand out the sandwiches, they take the sandwiches. We pour the coffee, they drink the coffee. We provide them with a safe place to gather, and they spend time each morning catching up with one another. Some of our guests even make daily morning mass a priority in their routine.
I guess, at first sight, they look a little shabby and unkept, but when you look to the inside you find the same flesh and bones that all of us are made of. The integrity, gratefulness and honesty they show surpass many people I meet. One of the things that I hear over and over from the volunteers and the friars is how amazing and inspiring it is that these people, who have nothing, are so grateful for another day and shot at life. It is very humbling.
Fr. Paul Lostritto