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At this exact moment in time there are hundreds of volunteers roaming the streets of NYC looking for homeless people to share a meal with, people for whom to provide medical attention, clothes, even a bed tonight. They are coordinated by an alliance of organizations whose collective mission is to serve the homeless in our city. This event is called Don’t Walk By.

Last week this mission was launched from a church in Harlem, where hundreds of homeless individuals were directed to be served and to share in hospitality and community. I was among the hospitality volunteers outfitting the homeless with better coats, blankets, new socks, underwear and toiletries. It was an honor to bless them and be blessed by them for my third consecutive year.

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Don’t Walk By is an annual event that reaches out to the city’s homeless population each year for four or five weeks in the harshest bitter cold of winter. It is a volunteer effort and much of the materials and resources are donated. They also need money to mobilize the effort.

For these reasons and many more, I have made Don’t Walk By NYC homeless outreach one of the recipients for my Zombie Music Campaign for peace and justice. Please click on this link for more details and to contribute to DWB and other organizations working toward peace and justice as they serve “the least of these” in NYC and beyond.

Thanks!

Gio



 
 
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The city of New York takes recycling very seriously. Building supers and business owners can get hefty fines (pun intended) for not properly sorting their trash and recycling. They are both to be left on the curbsie for pickup, though on different days, and the latter is to be bagged in blue transparent plastic rather than opaque black or clear plastic.

This is also one of those states where virtually any plastic bottle can be redeemed for ¢5 .

So perhaps it's not surprising that there are individuals who traverse the city, collecting those blue plastic bags in shopping carts and schlepping them to grocery stores and pharmacies. I've seen these people all over the city and always wondered about them - are they homeless? Do they really make much money? Is it worth the trouble?

I greatly respected the work that they do and even fantasized about one day having the expendable income to give them a 20 and a hearty "thank you." At the same time I've had some apprehensions about them - could they be dangerous? - and I never bothered to strike up a conversation or otherwise get to know my neighborhood recycling redeemers.

Then last night, as I approached my familiar treasure trove outside of Morton Williams supermarket on Broadway and 115th, I was finally confronted by one of them.

"Hey Boss."

He was firendly in his address but I assumed he was going to beg for money, which I almost certainly would have turned down. I didn't know yet that he had collected three large bags of bottles for redemption, as they were leaning against the wall of the market, about twenty feet away.

"If you take one of those bags into the store for me we can split the money."

I was impressed and intrigued by his hustle but "Why can't you take it yourself?"

"They only let me take one hundred bottles, one bag."

I agreed to help him out and set myself to food rescue while he redeemed a first bag. I overheard him telling the owner, "no, those are his bags," pointing to the other two bags leaning against the wall.

"Boss!" I looked over and nodded in agreement.

Once he returned, I went to redeem the second bag. The owner stood conspicuously in the doorway, holding another bag open as I transferred the bottles one by one, as quickly as possible. He appeared annoyed. I don't think he was counting the bottles and I certainly wasn't either. So I presume he arbitrarily decided when there were a hundred of them. He pulled away and began tying the bag, directing me to the checkout line for my five bucks.

I made the line and within a few minutes I was out the door with the money. I gave three of the five to my business partner and proceeded to rescue my food for the coming week. He asked which way I would be headed from there, wondering whether I could accompany him to the next store. I had already got off to a late start and wouldn't have time to go with him, I said. And before I could look up to introduce myself and give a proper farewell, he was halfway down the next block. His identity may remain a mystery for some time, but I'm glad to have caught a glimpse of the recycling redeemer's way of life.

For more info on these folks, check out this article published in the Bronx Journal in June 2011.

 
 
Last June I began considering new living situations in NYC. I was feeling a little bit frustrated with the lack of intentional community at the Edgecombe House and I was hankering to move to the Heights, where I already spent a great deal of time volunteering and I knew Trinity Grace would plant a church in the not-too-distant future.

Nothing substantial came of my brief search, though, because I knew that little could tear me away from the Edgecombe House. Living there was amazing. I got along really well with my roommates; I loved the apartment, building, super, street, and neighborhood; I had a great view exiting the building and another from my desk in a corner of the dining room; there was plenty of common space to host small group meetings, regular movie screenings, freegan feasts, or even DIY shows; and the rent was reasonably low - I shared a two bedroom in Harlem with four other men, so my rent and utilities combined never exceeded $400 (for any non-NYC-dwellers who may not know this, rent that low is virtually unheard of here!)

A month or two later I was approached by one of my roommates who suggested that it would behoove us not to live together anymore. This was a hard word to take, but - after a week or two - we agreed that this would be the best for all of us.

So I returned to the search for people who would be willing to share intentional community with me in the Heights by December. Nobody turned up.

Then one day at Word Up a fellow volunteer generously offered for me to stay with him at his apartment indefinitely, in exchange for housekeeping chores and other labor. I needed some time to think about this - I would essentially be living rent-free in Manhattan, which was a pretty big deal, but I would also have to postpone community living. Regardless, I had no other options available to meet my immediate need - to get out of the Edgecombe House - so I decided to move the bulk of my possessions to his apartment at least through the end of 2011.

I've now been living with Bob for a whole month. I work fourteen hours a week in exchange for a tiny space to house my minimal possessions, freegan food, and sleeping body. This is our barter arrangement and yet another example of God's miraculous provision for me in the city, provision for which I am unspeakably thankful. Moreover, it has been and will be another opportunity for me to learn what it means to live in community as I continue to prepare and look forward to the future Heights Community House.