NEW YORK (AP) — More than 500 New Yorkers, from homeless people living on the streets to wealthy retirees, sat together in a midtown Manhattan church Friday evening, enjoying a turkey dinner prepared by some of the finest chefs from three luxury hotels.
The annual get-together at New York City's St. Bartholomew's Church is intended to foster community, sitting the well-to-do next to those who have come upon hard times in an effort to start communication and break down barriers.
"It's about the idea of the community coming together," said the Rev. Edward Sunderland, who helped organize the event which had 25 tables.
About 180 people paid to attend the holiday meal, roughly 320 soup kitchen regulars attended and more than two dozen volunteers came to help keep the conversations going and usher out the food, Sunderland said.
Kitchen staff from the Lotte New York Palace, New York Four Seasons and the Waldorf Astoria New York cooked up roasted turkey, gravy, potatoes, green beans and desserts ranging from eclairs to fruit cake.
"It was awesome," said volunteer Craig James who assisted at a table that had a mixture of street homeless people as well as a couple in their 70s who are former musicians. "After the meals started coming everybody really started opening up, and good food got the conversation going."
Eddie Sanchez, another volunteer, said he manned the coat check desk and assured homeless participants that their belongings would be safe.
"I gave them my word that nobody was going to mess with any of their belongings," he said. "It's a good feeling that people who are apprehensive and don't trust very much trust you."
A feeling of unity spread throughout the night, he said.
"What I observed was communication and sitting down as a community," he said. "What happened was, both sides started talking and sometimes when two people start talking, barriers get broken down."