HOPE in Queens: Feeding New York’s Undocumented Laborers

Tags: Currents, Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Immigrants, Immigration, Inspiration, Queens, NY, Transfiguration, Undocumented

By Tamara Laine

At nearly 78 years old, Deacon Art Griffin has dedicated over 20 years to helping homeless men and women and now migrant day laborers. Deacon Art is the founder of Project HOPE, which stands for Help Our People Eat, and that is exactly what they do.

Every Tuesday he greets them with a smile and a brown-bagged lunch.

I’ve been doing work with the homeless since 1995,” he explained.

“Take the average of 40 a week for 50 weeks, and you do it for 10 years, that is 20,000 at least,” the number of sandwiches Deacon Art estimates he’s handed out since he started offering lunches.

Currents News joined Deacon Art for a ride along to see the impact firsthand, gathering at Transfiguration Church in Queens before loading up his car and hitting the streets.

With an estimated 62,000 homeless and 10,000 undocumented day laborers in New York City, just a look out the car window highlights the crises this humble organization faces.

“Now I see familiar faces,” said Frank Griebel, one of a handful of volunteers that make Project Hope possible. He has been by Deacon Art’s side since Project Hope’s inception 11 years ago.

The program is an offshoot of a previous outreach program founded by Deacon Art, which was defunded by the city in 2007.

“We used to get people with heroin, and addicts and take them to hospitals,” Deacon Art recalled.

“We don’t really get that now. We get what you see now, the feeding and the conversations, and if they need any help, we try to help.”

Just a short drive away, in the basement of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, Frank’s wife, Maureen and four others gather every Monday. They bake bread together, preparing the sandwiches for delivery.

“It depends on the weather,” said Frank of what they bring to those in need. “For example, it is summertime so we bring water. In the wintertime, we take out soup.”

“It feels good to help someone,” said Frank’s wife Maureen. They pack each bag with care, hoping it has an impact.

On the street, Deacon Art hands out sandwich after sandwich to thankful hands. And though his mission hasn’t changed, the people he serves has. The majority are now undocumented day laborers.

Manuel, who asked that we not use his last name, waits on this corner near Queens Boulevard every day for work.

Very difficult for the chance to find a job,” he explained.

When there is no work, sometimes we go days, hungry, hungry, hungry…”

He came to America to escape Ecuador’s failing economy and violence, and like so many others, in search of a better life.

Manny Castro, Executive Director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, said that the organization has seen an increase in day laborers because of the city’s construction boom and sanctuary city status.

“There is a lot of fear and concern amongst the immigrant community about what is coming next, what they might experience at their work site. There is an increase in anti-immigrant sentiment,” he said.

Coming from the diocese of immigrants, Deacon Art helps everyone, no matter when they arrived in the country. This is a service that a service that one worker, who asked to be called John, says is indispensable when work dries up.

“They have been offering their services to us for years, and I respect that so much,” he said. “We don’t get work and we don’t have cash or anything, so they are really helpful.”

Here, the need is never ending.

*Portions of this story have been translated from its original Spanish.