Central Food Program (GCFP) was founded in 1985 the day
after a homeless woman died of starvation in Grand Central Terminal. This memory of a homeless person starving on
the streets of NYC is embedded in the fabric of the program. It is why we have never missed a night of
providing meals to the men and women living on the streets of NYC since that
800 and 1,200 meals every single night of the year takes tremendous effort in
the best of times, let alone during blizzards, blackouts, hurricanes, etc. But each and every night the Grand Central
Food Program has answered the call.
It’s simply not
possible without a small, almost fanatically devoted kitchen staff that
literally walks to work at the crack of dawn in the worst of times. When the City shuts down, they are there in
the early morning hours meticulously preparing the stew that will feed hundreds
of hungry souls at the end of the day.
It can’t be done
without an immensely capable Program Assistant and remarkably committed Part-time
Drivers lugging 80 lb. crates of stew, fresh oranges, milk and bread up a small
flight of stairs and onto Coalition vans.
Then delivering them – no matter the conditions – to the first stop of
the night, St. Bart’s Church, and helping to compassionately serve the food
without an entire army of volunteers who come again and again and again – many
on the same night of the week for years and years – to deliver the food to the
same 25 stops we make every single night.
But most of all, none of it is possible without Juan De La Cruz.
Juan De La Cruz, Director, Grand Central Food Program
Juan has been the Grand Central Food Program Director for nearly 15 years. He oversees the preparation and delivery of the food, the social services; he coordinates vendors, partners, sponsors, volunteers – all of it, 365 days a year. Of course, we already knew that Juan was exceptional. We’ve had the privilege of watching him in action, day-in and day-out – never once wavering. And then came the Coronavirus pandemic.
As we have all been
reminded in the last couple months, food is essential – and the people who
provide the food for us have become part of the heroic fight of essential
workers, risking everything so that we can eat, stay strong and survive. That is literally what our Grand Central Food
Program does – now more than ever.
Because we are a
mobile food program we were uniquely set up to balance the desperate need for
food with the grave demands for social distancing. This is not to say that adjustments were not
needed, but Juan quickly and continuously made critical changes to adhere to
the latest guidance, making every effort to keep our clients, volunteers and
staff as safe as possible. And as the
tragedy of the last several weeks unfolded and many other providers were forced
to shut their doors, our numbers grew exponentially.
At just one of
the 25 stops where we typically serve an average of 180 people this time of
year, we saw the number jump to 273 on March 16th. Ten days later we were up to 324 men and
women. On March 29th, we
served more than 400 people – at just one of 25 stops. Still, the humanity on display there can take
your breath away – and it all starts with Juan.
Warm smiles, kind words and friendly jokes back and forth – it’s not
uncommon to hear the sound of laughter in the midst of unthinkable stress and
suffering. But the kindness is also in
the space given to be upset or fed up with the inhumanity of what it otherwise means
to live on the streets – the patience that allows for someone having a bad
moment or day to walk away with a nourishing meal and to come back again
Demand has jumped
on other GCFP stops as well – many doubling in the span of a few short
weeks. Our overall meals served has increased
40% since the middle of March. Still, it’s
clear we will need to add more and Juan remains convinced we can, unwilling to
let people go hungry when they need us most.
Juan has been on
the front lines every single day and
night of this crisis – handing out food, hand sanitizer, soap, and sleeping
bags. He’s spent his time shopping
during the day to buy clothes for clients who didn’t have anything clean to
change into, has been on countless conference calls as he simultaneously preps
to serve our evening meals, and has played an integral role in large-scale
advocacy for our clients to have basic access to food, water and bathrooms. Yet, somehow through it all he is still the same
Juan – calm, evenhanded, resourceful, tireless, compassionate, witty, patient,
kind, etc., etc.
In short, we have been in absolute awe of Juan’s courage and strength throughout this crisis – and more than anything, we want to publicly say, thank you Juan. You are as essential as they come. You are essential to the people we serve, to the Grand Central Food Program, to the Coalition for the Homeless, and to the City and State of New York. And we know of at least 1,000 people who will swear by it on any given night of the week.
Please consider making a gift to support the Grand Central Food Program.