Homeless and poor people rarely get the chance to enjoy a hot meal cooked by a chef, let alone sit with their friends while a well-dressed server brings a four-course meal and makes sure their cups don’t go empty.
But for one day each week, Monday Night Hospitality makes all this possible for some 450 people who at other times may go hungry.
That’s when 150 Monday Night Hospitality volunteers gather at All Souls Church, an Upper East Side Unitarian Congregation, to prep food and set up tables and chairs, complete with tablecloths and real silverware and plates. Most of the volunteers have been doing it for more than 10 years.
“After 9/11, I just wanted to help people, so I came to the church and see if I could help with anything,” said Sumi Ashley Kubota, a retired nurse who started volunteering in 2002. “Sure enough, they had something for me.”
Every week, Kubota comes to All Souls to help the rest of the crew prepare meals for the guests expected that evening.
“People are very nice, and I feel so good,” said Kubota. “It makes me happy coming here.”
A hot meal is not the only thing Monday Night Hospitality provides every week. It’s also a heart-warming experience.
“These guests come here every week and sit at the exact same table with their friends,” said Dan Strader, one of four or five chefs in the kitchen. “It is their night to be with their group, their friends that they can commune with and share stories.”
The guests at Monday Night Hospitality don’t eat the same thing every week, either. Each Monday a different chef is in charge and comes up with a new menu. Sometimes they serve chicken and sometimes beef; they even do Spanish night and Italian night. They also offer vegetarian and vegan dishes.
“We raise money to pay for all of this, and at the end, the money dictates what foods we can serve,” said Strader.
The chefs along with the rest of the kitchen staff make sure the meals are prepared before the guests arrive.
The setup crew makes sure all the tables are set and have enough chairs for everyone. The servers bring out a soup or salad, a hot entree and a dessert. At the end of the night, the cleanup crew puts things back to normal.
“The key to our system is no one goes through a soup line,” said Strader. “Everyone is served waiter-style with napkins, tablecloths, and silverware, and that’s what our night is, a night of dignity.”
Henry Tamayo is a reporter in the South Florida Media Network’s New York City Bureau.