By Victoria Merlino
Xavier Mission starts preparing for its weekly soup kitchen on Sundays at 6 a.m. The chef will make her entrance, followed in waves by her crew, a leadership team and an army of over 100 volunteers. It will be all hands on deck chopping lettuce, rolling up silverware and washing takeout containers until the lunch rush hits a little after midday.
Then, the mission will dole out 1,500 to 2,000 to people in need that come in from not only Manhattan, but Queens, Brooklyn and beyond.
“It’s a lot of moving parts,” Christina Bowman, director of outreach for the mission, said in an interview with the Eagle.
Xavier Mission, located at 55 West 15th St. in Manhattan, grew out of the Church of St. Francis Xavier in 1983 after parishioners prepared sandwiches for those in need in nearby Union Square. From that small group, came one of the largest Sunday soup kitchens in the city, called the Welcome Table, as well as a host of other services, including a food pantry, a shelter and free clothing.
The need for Xavier’s services has only increased, with an influx of people for the Sunday soup kitchen, said Bowman. This rise echoes in recent data.
Homelessness is at a high in New York City, according to advocacy group The Coalition for the Homeless, with an average of 63,495 people found to be sleeping in city shelters at the end of 2017 — the most on record.
Currently, the mission only has five paid employees, making volunteers a vital component in the well-oiled machine.
“My alarm clock goes off on a Sunday, and sometimes I'm grumpy about coming in on a Sunday and not sleeping in,” Bowman said. “And then I walk in and I've got 30 volunteers that are all here and excited. And they inspire me all the time.”
Volunteers are especially plentiful in November and December. This works in the mission’s favor, as Thanksgiving is its busiest time, according to Bowman.
“I don’t leave [the mission]. My chef, she doesn’t leave,” Bowman said about the week leading up to Thanksgiving. Together with volunteers, they created 250 full Thanksgiving dinner baskets, served 200 additional meals to homebound people, and hosted 250 to 300 elderly or disabled people at the mission on Thanksgiving Day.
“It’s a huge, massive undertaking for the week,” Bowman said.
Joe Gentile, from Forest Hills, has been volunteering every Sunday at Xavier for the past six to eight months. The night before Thanksgiving, he is expected come into the mission to clean turkeys, while his kids, ages 8 and 10, will make to-go baskets.
“I bring my kids because I try to show them that life’s not all about them. That they [should] try to make an effort to help other people as well besides just themselves,” he said.
The mission is also popular with school, corporate and alumni groups looking to give back, as well as through a partnership with New York Cares.
“It’s a really great environment,” said Isabella Hurtado, a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), said of the mission as she rolled silverware into napkins. She and the three women with her are part of FIT’s student-led fashion publication, Blush Magazine. Service hours are required of clubs on her campus, she said, and Xavier felt like a good fit and a good way to give back.
Bowman encourages all to get involved with the mission, whether that means volunteering or donating to help with their year-round efforts. More information can be found at xaviermission.org.
“We are small but mighty,” said Bowman with a smile, speaking over the din of stacked boxes and chattering voices.