Friday, January 9, 2015


Rev. Ben Bortin

In 2002, we bought a house in Staten Island across the harbor from Manhattan and, since it was a long ferry ride to attend the Ethical Culture Society (our choice at the time) we stopped by the nearby Unitarian Church. The minister there, Rev. Ben Bortin, was definitely a Humanist and his weekly sermons were actually well-thought-out essays on timely world events and always inspiring. 

One of the things Unitarians promote is outreach and there was a basket at the entrance to the church for people to bring clothes, etc. for the poor. We were intrigued by this as it seemed a simple thing to do and offered to deliver the items each week. At the time, the donor of choice was the Salvation Army but something in us rebelled against the idea that these would be sold to people who were not poor enough as far as we were concerned. Giving to us meant ‘no strings attached.’

Rev. Terry Troia
We heard about Project Hospitality, run by a dynamic Reformed Church minister, Dr. Terry Troia, who advocated for the poor in all areas social and political. They had shelters for homeless to sleep and gave clothes away once a week, no questions asked. For a few months we brought them weekly bags of goods that they placed in a garage by their headquarters. Then they suddenly lost that space and could no longer store or accept our stuff. We had to look elsewhere and, sad to say, it wasn’t difficult to find where help was needed.

Christine Dixon as Harriet Tubman Herself 
Ralph is a composer-lyricist and Morna a playwright and we had been getting grants from the Staten Island Arts Council to create and present children’s theater for underprivileged kids. Among them were an annual Christmas show and a dynamic one-woman play on Harriet Tubman - now in its 6th year. As we were being warmly accepted in the black community, we discovered the AME Baptist Church, the oldest in Staten Island, on Tompkins Ave in Stapleton. 

UAME Baptist Church in Stapleton, S.I.
Every day they handed out food donated by numerous charities to local people. Thursdays they hauled out tables in front of this tiny historic church and laid out clothes and stuff for people to take. The deal was, they paid .25 cents for a supermarket size plastic bag and filled it to capacity. This became our weekly mission that only ended when we decided to move back to California in 2012.

When we arrived in Hollywood to live we found that the Yuppie area where we were was full of young people who had money and clothing to spare. We put up signs in the laundry room and scoured the neighborhood for bags of often designer clothes left on the sidewalk for needy passers by. We’d separate them and, if needed, wash them and took turns bringing them to Goodwill or the UU Church in Santa Monica. We Googled local non-religious charities and learned about Food on Foot. 

We found it was started in 1996 by financial whiz Jay Goldinger to help the homeless get back on their feet with no strings attached (our kind of guy). We started stopping by their Sunday dining event in Hollywood at the LGBT Center on Schrader Ave and talked to the volunteers. As many as 250 homeless, poor individuals and families are served a meal each week and given decent clothing for free. Hey, the volunteers actually have to pay money to help out and they clearly enjoy doing it - as do we. 

So, if you are looking to make donations bring them along to Food on Foot in Hollywood any Sunday! 

This article was written for Rational Alternative: the Newsletter of Atheists United.

No comments:

Post a Comment