By Jessica Easthope
The bells toll at 7 a.m. at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Midtown Manhattan, but long before that – people are lining up.
St. Francis Breadline has been a constant for the homeless and food insecure in New York City for close to a century. They’ve served through the Great Depression, wars, natural disasters and a global pandemic, ever only missing four days, but now they’re up against something truly unprecedented.
“We need to make them feel welcome and we need to listen to them, that doesn’t cost anything and from there we’ll try to do more,” said executive director Patrick Regan.
In less than a year, New York City has taken in more than 45,000 migrants from Central and South America, all of whom are in need. Regan says the migrant crisis has forced the nonprofit to expand its ministry to running two separate breadlines every day.
The breadline is serving more people now than at the height of the pandemic. More food insecurity means more people are needed to help, and not just hand out food, but be the face of hope for the newly arrived.
“I hope that they feel when they come to St Francis of Assisi, they’re being helped and we’re trying to expand how we’re helping them,” he said.
St. Francis Breadline is now partnering with the Diocese of Brooklyn Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, asking students and anyone over the age of 13 to volunteer on Saturday mornings. Associate director Lucia Morales says it’s designed to be more than just community service.
“We want this to be more than just a check-off, we’re Catholics, we want this to be part of their identity. There are a lot of new migrants who have a new home and are looking for help and we want to make sure they’re aware of what’s happening in their own city, the more exposed they are the more empathetic, compassionate beings they can be,” she said.
The breadline starts at seven every morning. Asking teenagers to get up before the sun on a Saturday is a sacrifice, but Lucia says giving of ourselves to others, even when it’s hard is what our faith is about.
“We want our kids to be disciplined and smart and hardworking but we also want them to be loving and I do it in Jesus’ name not to tell the whole world but because it’s between you and God.” She said.
The Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry is signing students and young adults up for each Saturday from now until September. The real hope is it extends far beyond that.