“Bet you didn’t think you’d be riding today with an ex-cop and a bank robber,” quips Brian from the back of the battered navy-blue van. We’re in the driveway at Shepherd’s Flock, a faith-based residence in Southwest Yonkers for homeless men.
The van is packed with grocery bags filled with fresh produce, pasta, lentils, and cans of soup and vegetables. Alex, a shelter resident, is driving. Jeff Meyer rides shotgun. At 6’2,” with clear blue eyes, Jeff looks every inch the retired police officer he is. Jeff now volunteers to run this ministry. And yes, Brian, 53, served time for bank robbery. Homeless for most of his adult life, Brian says that distributing food “is a blessing. Instead of taking, to give back feels good.”
Two minutes after the van pulls out, Jeff’s cell rings.
Jeff Meyer, food-pantry volunteer
“Yes, Miguel? Where do you live? Do you have a family, Miguel? You have no food? I’ll do my best to get to you today. Take care, buddy.”
But first, he needs to get to Marsha before she leaves for chemotherapy. Marsha needs her nutrients, and greens are expensive, Jeff explains. Like everyone else whom Shepherd’s Flock will visit that morning, Marsha lives in Yonkers public housing. She opens the door wearing a bright-red cap and a long dress. “God bless you!” she says, giving Jeff a hug as she takes the food.
The van heads next to what Jeff describes as “a rough area, gang-infested.” He should know. Three guys once tried to rob Jeff on an afternoon delivery. Alex pulls the van up next to an aging building. Jeff seeks out Ronny.
Ronny is one of the people Jeff trusts to distribute food to others. Sporting a brown wool cap and no laces in his high-top sneakers, Ronny, 63, is a longtime Yonkers resident.
“I give this food to people I know really need it,” he explains, as the bags are loaded into his basement apartment. “Some people are ashamed to ask. But if you need it, you need it.”
As the van cuts through Southwest Yonkers, Brian points out places where the homeless sleep: under a bridge, under playground equipment, on certain park benches. Sometimes he brings groceries to these men. “Winter is the worst when you’re homeless,” he says, shaking his head.
Next stop is the emergency delivery to Miguel, but no one answers Jeff’s knock. He leaves six bags in front of the door, offering a prayer to keep the food safe.
Ayesha is a new client with six kids. It’s hard to tell how many people live in the walk-up apartment. Two toddlers wearing only diapers hover by the door. As the men leave, the toddlers can be heard shouting, “We can eat! We can eat!”
Jeff sighs before saying, “You know what that is? It’s the end of the month; the food stamps have run out.”
And so the morning goes. There’ll be a visit with Patrick L., who has lost his sight to diabetes. Another to a woman with MS. Another to a grandmother with small children wrapped around each leg. Another to a mother of four, whose Orchard Avenue neighborhood feels like a no-man’s land, with no supermarket or street life.
The van, empty of groceries, heads back to Shepherd’s Flock. In four hours, Jeff, Alex, and Brian cover 17 miles and distribute 100 bags of groceries. On Monday, they’ll pick up leftover produce from the Pleasantville Farmers Market and give that away, too.
For Jeff, volunteering is a full-time job. He also runs a food pantry at the Ridgeway Alliance Church, in White Plains, where he worships.
“My friends from my police job say, ‘You’re out of your mind. What are you doing in South Yonkers?” Jeff says. “I tell them, when I retired, I literally prayed. ‘Lord, I want to do something that really matters.’ And this is what I do. I wouldn’t change my life now for anything.” Back <<
What Food Pantries Are Too Polite To Tell You
No one in the nonprofit world wants to alienate well-meaning donors or volunteers. But here’s the lowdown on what food pantries would really like you to know:
They’d rather have your money than your food. Most feeding programs buy food from the Food Bank for Westchester, where—thanks to bulk purchasing at reduced prices—their buying power is greatly increased. A $1 donation can usually buy $4 of food.
Not all food drives are created equal. With the best intentions, schools, employers, and businesses ask folks to drop off excess canned goods for the needy. But collections of heavy, random cans create headaches for volunteer staff, who need to inspect, sort, and store them. Canned food is relatively cheap and can be purchased more efficiently at the Food Bank.
Better bet: Targeted food drives. Ask your local pantry for one or two items they need and collect those.
Do not drop off expired food. If you wouldn’t feed it to your own family, don’t give it to others. And no specialty items. “We don’t need your out-of-date capers,” one pantry manager quipped.
Your kid’s community-service requirement isn’t their priority. Don’t drop off your teenager at a pantry in the middle of a busy distribution because he/she needs to fulfill a requirement. Volunteers are great! But check to see when and what kind of help is needed.