Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen Celebrates 35 Years of Feeding Needs

Supporters of the soup kitchen enjoyed food, libations, jazz music and a dance performance to commemorate its 35th anniversary. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | For 35 years — through fire, the tragedy of 9/11, and power outages from Hurricane Sandy — Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen has served meals to those in need.

“Nobody gets turned away. That’s the way it’s always been,” Father Rand Frew, founder of the soup kitchen, told Chelsea Now at an event last week to commemorate the anniversary.

Frew recalled a different Chelsea in the late 1970s — one in which there was nothing “chic” about 14th St., and the area across from the church at 296 Ninth Ave. at W. 28th St. was known as “boozers park.”

“Holy Apostles was smack in the middle of all this,” he said. “I knew where the homeless were.”

After studying at the General Theological Seminary (440 W. 21st St., btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.), Frew said he had seen how a congregation in Atlanta had run a soup kitchen, and knew that he wanted to start one at Holy Apostles when he came to the parish in late 1978. Frew reached out the community, whom he called “supportive from day one.”

Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen opened its doors in October 1982, and Frew said it is in for the long haul.

There was a fall nip in the air as people waited outside the church on Thurs., Oct. 26 for the evening event to begin.

Bobbi Taylor and Michele Chaisson said that they have become more involved with the soup kitchen, coming to all the events.

“They feed a huge amount of people,” Taylor said.

Chaisson noted that federal funding cuts had made the soup kitchen’s work all the more important, saying that they feed the homeless and people who “just can’t afford to buy food.”

L to R: Reverend Rand Few, Reverend Elizabeth Maxwell, Right Reverend Allen Shin, Reverend Dr. William Greenlaw and Reverend Glenn Chalmers at the Oct. 26 celebration. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

Michael Ottley, the director of operations for the soup kitchen, said it is used and needed more than ever in 2017. “It’s an amazing thing that the soup kitchen has been around since 1982, which was, we thought, a temporary solution to a temporary problem,” he said.

There was a cut to SNAP benefits last year, according to Ottley, and, thus, there has been an increase in meals served — about 30,000 more meals served this year than last. (SNAP, also known as food stamps, stands for the supplemental nutrition assistance program.)

While there has been an increase in those of need of help, funding for the soup kitchen has been in flux — with some gains and losses. Through the federal Emergency Food and Shelter Program, the soup kitchen got $40,000 in funding, an increase from the $23,000 it had been receiving annually for several years, Ottley said.

However, a grant that the soup kitchen has been getting since 1999 from the state Dept. of Health ended in October, John-Harvard Reid, associate executive director for the soup kitchen, said. The annual grant was for $183,000, which was doled out in five-year blocks, and is a loss of $915,000 in funding, he said.

“We’re not the only ones who lost money,” Reid said. “Our funding has been hurt and we’re trying to make it up.”

Reid noted that the soup kitchen’s annual Fast-A-Thon will take place on Thurs., Nov. 16. Many people who go to the soup kitchen eat only one meal a day, he said, and so for that Thursday, people who participate in the Fast-A-Thon are asked to only eat one meal. Like a walk-a-thon, people pledge to participate, asking others to donate in support of that pledge. Last year, the soup kitchen raised $90,000, and the goal this year is to raise $95,000, he said. Visit holyapostlessoupkitchen.org/fast-a-thon-2017 for more info.

The Fast-A-Thon also raises awareness that hunger is a problem in New York City, Reid said.

On the left, John-Harvard Reid, associate executive director, and, right, Michael Ottley, director of operations, flank Father Rand Frew, center, the founder of the soup kitchen. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

Ottley said the Oct. 26 event also helps to “brings awareness to the soup kitchen,” and to “fund the mission,” noting a good turnout with several longtime supporters attending.

Each table filled with food was decade-themed. Photos of the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, and Duran Duran graced the 1980s table home to deviled eggs, a veggie tray, and quesadillas. The 1990s played host to sandwiches, salad and hot wings as well as the emblems for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica. And the 2000s, or the Aughts, had love for the Backstreet Boys and pasta, beet, and beef dishes.

A jazz band from Avenues: The World School kept the crowd swinging, TheEdwardMorganBallet also performed.

Joseph Alexander, director of the company, said afterwards that the piece was created especially for the 35th anniversary of the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, which they had worked with before. The company has created two ballets for the homeless, collaborated with the writer’s workshop and people who go to the soup kitchen have danced with the group, he said.

“Wherever we perform it’s about healing the world,” Alexander said. “We can educate people through the arts — and that’s our way of giving back.”

While mostly celebratory, the event was also somewhat bittersweet.

“It’s a shame we have to continue to do this — hopeful that we don’t have to do this anymore,” Ottley said.

Joseph Alexander, director of TheEdwardMorganBallet, coaxes a guest at the celebration to dance. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

Father Dr. William Greenlaw, the rector who led the soup kitchen after Father Rand Frew, said the 35th anniversary is “quite a milestone. It has survived through really tough economic times.”

He added, “It’s a family here. People believe in the mission.”

However, he pointed out that the stained glass window for the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen has the date of its founding, 1982, and then a dash, with the notion that one day there would be an end date “because the problem had been addressed,” Greenlaw said.

Reverend Elizabeth Maxwell, who was with the soup kitchen for 25 years, agreed, saying, “On one level, of course, it’s a great thing to see it going strong. One the other hand, we always wanted to go out of business.”

During the evening, many, like Maxwell, spoke of their time at the soup kitchen. Ottley, the director of operations, praised the volunteers and the staff who make the program work. He gave a special award to Wendy Shepherd, parish administrator, who has worked for Holy Apostles for 29 years.

“Anything you need to know about Holy Apostles, you call Wendy,” Ottley noted.

Afterwards Shepherd said the honor came as a surprise. “They kept a very good secret from me.”

She added, “This place speaks volumes for itself. This is a place that is so unique to me, to New York and what is at the heart of it is giving, always giving.”


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