A Visit to the Compassion Market

by: 
James Melchiorre

Imagine it's late 2019 and you're walking along a busy New York City street with dozens of people passing by. Statistics indicate that, on average, one out of every seven of those persons would have been considered food insecure, defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as having "limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways." 

And that was before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic devastated the city’s economy. Seven months into the pandemic, New York streets are less crowded, but now, on average, one out of every four New Yorkers qualifies as food insecure.

For some of them, the Compassion Market, launched in September by Trinity Church Wall Street, might be a vital lifeline.

Observing social distancing along with other Trinity staff, Summerlee Staten, Executive Assistant to the Priest-in-charge and Vicar, packs bags for the Compassion Market.

Each Wednesday afternoon on the east portico of St. Paul’s Chapel overlooking Broadway, guests can receive food for five days, enough for 15 healthy meals, made up of pre-packaged, shelf-stable food in two large brown grocery bags. Personal hygiene kits are included. The food is packed by volunteers from Trinity staff and stored in the historic 254-year-old chapel.

Bags of food at St. Paul's Chapel are stored in front of a painting of the Great Seal of the United States, commissioned in 1785.

“It was great to be part of what Trinity does best: giving to the community,” said Helen Levine, Trinity's Operations and Parish Office Manager. “So many expressions of 'thank you' at the close—I was embarrassed. I hope to volunteer again.”

Guests can make an appointment to receive their food by using the Plentiful app. Another option is to call the resource phone number, 917-594-6300, any Monday to Friday between 2 and 5pm. If you leave a message at any other time, you will receive a call back within 48 hours. Walk-ins are also accepted while supplies last. 

Free masks are available for anyone who needs one one, volunteers wear PPE and follow strict food safety protocols, and social distancing is observed to keep the Compassion Market as safe as possible.

The pandemic has exacerbated economic inequality, evidenced most immediately in access to food. According to Hunger Free America, 37 percent of parents across the United States say that they’re eating less each day to ensure that there’s enough food for their children.

Karen He, a Trinity staff member who is the Hospitality Manager of Trinity Commons, offers food and personal hygiene kits at the Compassion Market.

Trinity is assisting in this crisis not only with the weekly Compassion Market, but also through Compassion Meals, the long-standing Brown Bag Lunch program, and emergency grants.

It’s in that spirit that Dane Miller, Assistant Head Sacristan at Trinity, was motivated to volunteer at the Compassion Market. “I wanted to make sure our neighbors passing by on the street still know we are here for them.” 

"In the Gospel of John," Miller said, "Jesus asks Simon Peter, 'Do you love me?' When Simon replies in the affirmative, Jesus impels him, 'Feed my lambs.' 

"May we each in our own way continue to nourish each other in these times."