Free Food: A Place to Find Love

by Caroline Griggs

Interview with Pastor Beard from Glendale Baptist Church in Harlem, where we serve a Free Food meal every Friday evening.

What has it been like for Glendale Baptist to collaborate with Free Food?

Our church has always done service. Service is in our bones, and we always find ways to give back. Free Food, in our church, has felt like an extension of who we already are and puts a smile on our faces. The church is grateful to give to everyone. What surprises me though is that we integrate ourselves into the meals. We sit down and eat together. While we are with everyone, eating, we learn people’s stories. It’s the stories that surprise us the most. No one person comes to homelessness in the same way. Sometimes there is a tragedy in the family, sometimes someone loses work, and other times, people have work, but simply not enough to make ends meet.

All are welcome here.

What do you discover while volunteering with Free Food?

This experience of Free Food brings gratitude into our hearts and our church community. In addition to hearing people’s stories, we get to watch people come in, sometimes the same people come in and sometimes new people do. We watch the people get something to eat and some clothes to wear. Some cry, some laugh, some don’t say much at all. Yet they are all receiving something, something that they need, that they want. I think that something is love. Here they find love, and so do we.

What do you notice about Free Food volunteers?

One of our volunteers, who comes in every week, is very observant. He watches. I asked him the other day why he comes, he said, “To come to a place where all people are accepted. It’s not like that in other places. Not all people are this accepting, and the food served here is beautiful, exquisite… a real treat. I believe God created life exactly as it is for moments like this, moments for us to feel the good in each other. This place is a blessing, and no one is judged here. Everyone is served as an equal. I’m bringing my friends!”

What are the benefits to having Free Food inside the church?

Free Food feeds our church, and we continue to feed the people. They come and eat and afterwards some people choose to stay and savor in God and worship. Free Food is expanding our access to people. No longer do I walk around the streets looking down at people, instead, I greet them. I know the people of the streets, and I understand them. They eat with me. I see people who come to our meals, or who come to the service after the meal, and now I say hi. We are friends.

What has impacted you the most volunteering with Free Food?

I don’t know everyone’s name that comes in here, but I know their faces and they know mine. We understand each other. It’s not one person giving to another to feel good or quickly pass by, we meet each other in the streets and at church. We get to know each other.

One of my favorite parts about Free Food is that we give away clothes. People need clothes, and it’s a great way for anyone who wants to get involved. Sometimes people can’t come to serve food, but they can donate clothes. Everyone has clothes they no longer want. Free Food provides a place where one person’s excess becomes another person’s new clothes. Our clothes are good — we only offer the best clothes, with no holes or tears, and we display them beautifully. We create an experience like going shopping, where people try on clothes. It’s such a blessing to have what one person no longer needs be just what another person wants.

What is your favorite part of Free Food?

Reverend Ingram is the director of Free Food clothes. Arranging donated clothes is her passion. I asked her what Free Food clothes means to her, and she said, “We started with a small amount. Now, we have been serving bags and bags of clothes. Today, we received 15 bags of clothing. These are exceptional clothes. We have men’s and women’s coats, scarves, hats, all in very good condition. I’m a foster child, and I grew up not having much, so I take time out to enjoy what Free Food offers. You should see the smiles on people’s faces when they receive the clothes. The patrons of the church see the clothes, and say, “Wow all this is here! Thank you, Free Food!”

How do you see Free Food continuing to grow at the church?

Volunteering with Free Food creates a place for the compassion in our hearts to come alive. I want all people to come and experience this aliveness. I want to help those I come in contact with to have a better understanding of their stories and to sit, have a conversation, learn something new. I want this to become a place of meeting, a joining of souls, a place that knows no bounds, where two souls can join together to eat great food!