It's a sight that is not seen too often. Big burly electricians carving up turkeys and hams donned in white aprons at the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers on a chilly Monday afternoon in preparation for the annual feed the homeless drive in Manhattan.
Over 30 volunteers of all ages and professions pulled over 300 dinners together on Monday, November 24.
"Preparations began about 3 p.m.," explained chairperson of the group, Genevieve Toland from Co. Donegal.
Toland, 35, has been involved with the Irish Volunteers for the Homeless for the past seven years. The organization began in 1990 at the request of visiting Cardinal Tom?s Fiaich.
"He told the Irish to give back to New York so they did," explains Toland.
Along with another small-dedicated group of Irish volunteers, Toland spends her Monday evenings - winter, spring, summer and autumn - on the streets of Manhattan providing nutritious food and drinks to many of New York City's homeless people.
The Local 3 Electrical Union has been the backbone of the Thanksgiving meals for many years.
"For the past six years, Local 3 have provided most of the turkeys and manpower to make the Thanksgiving run possible," said Toland appreciatively.
On occasion, and when they have them, Toland and the group will supply the homeless with warm clothing, including socks, blankets, jumpers and pants.
"People often drop in some clothes to the center for the homeless so we pass them out as best and as fairly as we can," said Toland.
Although there are more men homeless than women, Toland said they do their best of meet the special requests made by the female homeless.
Lee, a New Yorker who looks to be in her fifties, sleeps on the steps of St. Jean the Baptiste Church on Lexington Avenue under the watchful eye of God. On Monday evening, just after receiving her Thanksgiving meal from the Irish volunteers, Lee produced from inside her cardboard box a tartan color blanket that volunteers gave her two years ago.
"They gave me this," she said while wrapping it around her legs. "It's beautiful and I use it every night to keep warm."
Lee, once a Marine, sets aside her hot meal and begins to prepare her shelter for the night of rain that is to come. These steps have been her resting place for many years.
The homeless people at each stop not only got dinner on Monday night, they also got Irish candy, Irish soda and other treats donated to them by Food Ireland in Mount Vernon. It is local businesses in the Yonkers and Woodlawn area that donated the turkey and ham.
Mike Araque from California is a regular at the food drop on 76th and Lexington Avenue. On Monday, he brought along another homeless friend of his, Sam Kunihiro from Hawaii.
While Kunihiro lavished up the mushroom soup on offer on Monday, Araque, who lives frugally day-to-day, was full of praise for the Irish volunteers.
"These people are so nice. They don't have to be here helping us every Monday but they do come out and always give us great food," said Araque, who added that he has no money for food and relies on groups like the Irish homeless group for meals.
"I was telling my friend Sam about this particular group and promised him that I would bring him along tonight."
After finishing his hot soup, Kunihiro lifted his head out of the cup and said, speaking softly while pausing to collect himself, "It very good, it is a soup full of nutrients and keep me healthy."
Kunihiro, when asked how he fares out in the cold weather, said he prefers it because the freezing cold temperatures keeps away bacteria and keeps the air clean.
Another lady in her forties, speaking on condition of anonymity, takes shelter every night from the wind and rain under the outside rafters at St. Jean Baptiste Church. She, along with her neighbor, Lee, have set up a home for themselves out of cardboard boxes and a few blankets.
"I appreciate so much what this group does for us," she said smiling.
"I look forward to their visit every Monday night. They are our friends now and are for sure the best group that comes to visit us every week."
This particular lady has over the years received socks, sheets and blankets from the Irish group.
"They really look out for us and never scrimp on anything," she added, offering a warm smile. "And it's all done in a quiet unsung way without ever expecting praise."
Toland explains that the run wouldn't happen if it wasn't for the local businesses in the area, including Rory Dolan's, Eileen's Country Kitchen, the Irish Coffee Shop and the Coachman's Inn.
"Every week these places give us soup and hot chocolate and we are very grateful to them," said Toland.
She also praises, Joe Moray, an Italian American, who every week without fail provides the bread for the sandwiches.
"It was also through Joe that we got the invaluable donation of our minivan which we take down to Manhattan each week," said Toland. Break for the Boarder, a local taxi company in Yonkers, also provides their minivan, and driver Kelvin, for the run on a Monday.
On a regular Monday, albeit not as busy as the Thanksgiving meal, about 25 volunteers, several from the senior group at the center, prepare the outgoing sandwiches and soups. An additional 20 volunteers then arrive at the center about 7 p.m. to pick up and feed the city's homeless.
For volunteer Joe Carey from Tipperary, having time on his hands means doing something good with it.
"I'm retired and have nothing to do so I thought this is a good way to keep me busy and help other people," he said while pulling turkey and ham dinners out of the back of cars.
As Joe continues to pass out turkey dinners to the homeless on the steps of the church, he tells the other volunteers that these were the steps he proposed to his wife many years ago. Little did he know during that moment that later in life he would be back there again every Monday evening for a completely different reason.
Arthur, who makes his home at St. James Episcopal Church on 71st Street and Madison Avenue, said he never fails to miss a meal from the Irish volunteers. Arthur, who gets his food delivered by a volunteer right to his corner at the church while he stays wrapped up in his blanket to keep warm, told the Irish Voice he loves the hot chocolate that he gets every week and is grateful when they sometimes bring him clothes.
Arthur has been living on those steps for nearly three years. Echoing the same sentiments as the other homeless, Arthur said, "These people are great and now they are my friends. They really care."
Liam McGonigle from Mayo, who has been with the Irish Volunteers for the Homeless for the past five years on and off, said, "Life has been good and it's time to give something back."
Leon Small sleeps under the front door of Madison Avenue's Presbyterian Church with his girlfriend. Each night they huddle together to stave off the whipping wind and cold.
"She got sick from coffee a while ago and I was asleep," said Small, an immigrant from Jamaica.
"We always know you guys have good food so we can eat it and know it is safe. I don't want my girl getting sick like that again."
Down the street, at Christ Church United Methodist, Buddy, who is a New Yorker is raving about the Irish group.
"They have huge hearts and are wonderful people," he said. Buddy, homeless himself for many years, also helps feed his friends.
"I stand outside sandwich shops at nighttime and they give me their leftovers so I then feed the people who need it," he explains.
"Just like the Irish volunteers I feel good about doing it. This is my therapy. Instead of seeing a shrink, this is my therapy. I enjoy helping people," he smiles as he drinks his soup.
Noel McBrien, a volunteer from Leitrim, said by helping out on a Monday night, he is doing some good in life and that is important to him, especially as America prepares as a nation to give thanks on Thursday.