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.

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.



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.

From Good Morning Joe blog...

My head was probably half-submerged in a clear plastic bag on the corner of 115th Street and Broadway when I first made Al's acquaintance. He looked on with apparent curiosity as three freegans procured their weekly groceries, free of charge.

In our usual friendly manner, we offered him the food that we'd already acquired. He seemed amazed about the sheer amount of waste and interested in taking some food home. We handed him a plastic grocery bag and he helped himself to a few items: an apple or two, cucumber, perhaps a microwave meal.

He could not take much more, he said, "because the library doesn't allow food. I've been camping out there for the past couple weeks."

I wouldn't have guessed upon first glance that he was homeless. With his unkempt long white beard, otherwise clean cut, beady eyes set behind square spectacles, and walking cane he looked like any old cooky university professor. Indeed that's precisely the kind of man we had on our hands: a former cooky professor who had fallen on hard times.

"They let me hang out in the library for free, it's a great perk of working for the school..."

Yes, and he knows when and where to catch museums, shows, film screenings, art galleries - all kinds of entertainment around the city - for FREE. My kind of guy.

"…but they don't allow food. Either way, I won't be staying there long."

Al(bert) explained that he worked for Columbia some years ago, the reason they allow him in the library. Students are in the throes of finals, so the library doors are open at all hours. But not for long. He must soon find another place to stay and does not have much money for rent when that time comes. 

He accompanied us to our next stop, a bakery some blocks away. This location is well known amongst freegans for its lavish gourmet pizza, though their occurrence is somewhat seldom. This week we were in luck! Plenty of cheese and pepperoni slices for all. I had no interest in taking it home so we partook then and there. I helped myself to a cheese slice and passed another along to Al. He was very thankful and in a bit of disbelief. He had learned how to get almost everything for free - even "lodging" for a few weeks now - but had never considered this method for finding food.

He asked whether we knew anyone with a room. I offered to spread word of his need, but I couldn't promise a successful effort. Either way, I was glad to have helped him learn how to subsist in NYC. With the amount of food wasted and the facility of acquiring it, there is absolutely no need for anyone in this city to go hungry. We hope to prevent hunger and food waste before our valuable resources hit the waste bag.

Someday, perhaps. Someday.

In the mean time we can help ourselves to the city's discards, keep some good food out of landfills while keeping our own bellies full, and seek out viable living situations for brothers and sisters in need, like my new friend Al. 

Baby steps.