Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hungry Heart

I could tell you about the mediocre dinner I had in the east village last night after an early evening showing of Milk. I could tell you how two of my favorite restaurants, Terroir and The Redhead, claimed to have hour-long waits, forcing me into a cozy-but-slightly-terrible French Bistro on Avenue A.

But you don't really hear about my perfectly decent shell steak and frites.

Actually, going to see Milk was the perfect segue way to the holiday season. Sometimes I think of the things I see in this world and I lose hope for humanity. Someone in my building stole a tip I left for my New York Times delivery person; seven days a week, 365 days a year, he or she gets up hours before I do to deliver my paper. And the money I left, in a Christmas card taped in the alcove of my own building, had been stolen before morning.

But Milk cast a new light on people and priorities. It was a movie of phoenixes rising from the ashes, of hope born from desperation. I watched old news reels of marches and rallies, where tens of thousands of people galvanized a movement that would challenge the way humans treated other humans. What a sight it was.

Which got me thinking. These are desperate times, perhaps just as desperate for us everyday Americans as they were for a terrorized and demonized Harvey Milk in 1978. Every day another one of my middle class friends loses his or her job. Every day another one of my comfortable friends tries to figure out how on earth he or she will keep the apartment, pay the bills, put food on the table.

New Yorkers have always had to live with the homeless. We see destitution and loss on our trains and on our streets and we turn our heads to the newspaper or walk past without filling outstretched cups. We can't be blamed; it's just what we do. Filling every cup would render us broke. A dollar for every homeless person would leave no dollars for us.

But I've heard a different sentiment expressed lately. People are still dining out, but tipping less. People are using a damaged economy to avoid tipping civic employees, or their delivery people, or their building's supervisor, or their waitress. The indulgences we cut back on, apparently, amid a perfect storm are the indulgences that only affect other people.

Last week, reported that the New York City Food Bank has received fewer donations this year, which means less food to distribute to New York's growing homeless. Other charities have suffered as well. In a struggling economy, even as we work towards our own financial stability, it is still our responsibility--perhaps now more than ever--to give what we can to help others.

I donated between $10 and $20 to a few different charities. It isn't much, but maybe a donation like that has the same weight as, say, a cast ballot. By now, I think we all know that every vote counts. After all, I spend most of my time thinking about and nurturing my stomach and its complicated desires. I am fortunate. I am warm in winter, I am cared for, I am well-fed beyond measure. I don't deserve even half of what I was born into. Like Harvey Milk, I wish a better world for all of my fellow Americans. I wish for a perfectly roasted heritage chicken in every pot.


Food Bank for New York City
39 Broadway
New York, NY 10006

New York Cares, Coat Drive
214 W. 29th Street, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10001

New York Times Neediest Cases Fund
4 Chase Metrotech Center, 7th Floor East, Lockbock 5193
Brooklyn, NY 11245

City Harvest
575 8th Avenue, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10018


ramster said...

Here, here! certainly service providers, who depend on our geneosity for their livlihood, should be remembered with a little *extra* in these times, not less.

By the way, since you mentioned The Times, I will point out Kristoff's column on giving at

happy solstice!


Thanks, ramster. Great link!