NEW YORK -- Lunch, on this day, meant serving the community. Volunteers from Major League Baseball and the New York Mets took time out Thursday to assist the staff at Holy Apostle Soup Kitchen, a Manhattan-based institution that averages more than 1,000 meals served every day.
Team mascot Mr. Met and Ed Charles, a member of the 1969 Mets World Series team, were on hand to help feed the community, and the team's larger contribution to the cause was evident.
The Mets have worked with local food rescue organization City Harvest since 2008, and they even sponsor one of the trucks that delivers donated food all over the city. But Thursday, employees of the Mets and MLB went a step further in donning aprons and gloves and serving food themselves.
Church of the Holy Apostles, an Episcopal parish located at the corner of Ninth Avenue and 28th Street, has run its soup kitchen since 1982. There's never any shortage of food or mouths to feed, and according to development director Yvonne Cassidy, there always seems to be enough help.
"Every day, because of the numbers we serve, we need about 60 volunteers," said Cassidy of the soup kitchen. "We have never had a day where we haven't had enough volunteers. People just show up for us. It's amazing. Likewise, as people are on the line here and they come as guests, when they get back on their feet, they'll often come back to volunteer and come back to donate. You see that a lot of people want to come back and give back the way they were helped. It's really inspiring."
City Harvest, one of the first organizations of its kind, is one of the reasons that process is so simple. City Harvest celebrated its 30th anniversary in December, and it spends its time going out in the community and soliciting donations from the area's restaurants, supermarkets and bodegas.
Kyle Clifford, a representative of City Harvest, said the organization has grown to 18 trucks and three bicycles, a sign of how massive the job has become. City Harvest reaches more than 400 soup kitchens and food pantries in the city and feeds a staggering amount of people each day.
But the job is never done. Twenty percent of New Yorkers are living at or below the poverty rate, said Clifford, and one in every three children under 18 doesn't know where their next meal is coming from. That's what keeps City Harvest moving, growing and looking for more ways to help.
"We have a very ambitious mission," said Clifford. "Thanks to the support of the Mets and our corporate sponsors and the quantity of individual volunteers that we get, we're able to help. We have no problem getting food, because people give us food. Our thing is to get it out efficiently and quickly."
Clifford made sure to note that much of the food City Harvest receives is perishable and nutrient-dense, but donors can also give canned food if that makes more sense for them. Produce makes up more than 50 percent of the food City Harvest distributes, and it all comes from concerned citizens.
The Mets have held food-packing events at Citi Field and they even contribute to an offseason food-drive, but Clifford said much of the material comes from local restaurants and markets. Much of the time, he said, stores are thrilled to have someone take their extra stock off their hands.
"They're delighted. We have no problem," said Clifford of finding new donors. "Everybody in the food industry, by their nature, they absolutely hate waste. If you think about it, we arrive at their door and we take the waste from them. There's nothing more satisfying than handing over good, healthy food and knowing that it's going to the neighborhood. We pick it up, but we have some partners that are so good that if our trucks are under pressure, they'll deliver the food for us. We're very lucky."
City Harvest rescues more than 100,000 pounds of food each day and will rescue approximately 42 million pounds of food for the year, an amazing total only seems more impressive when you realize how many people it will feed on the other end. More than 40,000 individuals donated to the City Harvest cause last year, and several local luminaries are part of the City Harvest Food Council.
The Mets will host a food drive on July 20 to aid City Harvest, and the team expects to be busy over the coming weeks and months. The Mets and MLB plan to donate more than $4 million through their charitable arms to local and national initiatives as part of the All-Star Game festivities.
Some of that money will go to national efforts like the Boys & Girls Club of America and Make-A-Wish, and a few projects will be chosen in conjunction with the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City. City Harvest has been a recipient, with funds going toward operating the organization's fleet of trucks.
And with that one contribution, countless lives will be touched. Just think of the 1,000 people who get their meals at Holy Apostle Soup Kitchen each weekday, and you have an idea. And there are hundreds of other soup kitchens, each of them going into their own pockets each day to feed the hungry.
The crowds are even bigger at Holy Apostle during the summer, said Cassidy, and that's because there are families with children that aren't getting meals at school. That's why organizations like City Harvest are so important, and it's why soup kitchens like Holy Apostle are able to stay in business.
"It would be hugely more difficult," said Cassidy of operating the soup kitchen every day without having City Harvest's assistance. "You can imagine preparing and serving food to that many people every single day. It's a huge undertaking. We purchase about 50 percent of our food, and the other 50 percent we get donated. If it wasn't for City Harvest to go around collecting all the food and delivering it for us, we'd pretty much have to purchase all of it. And we don't have trucks to go and collect it."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com.