Did you know that an estimated 100 million people are homeless worldwide?
Source: United Nations Commission on Human Rights, 2005
Homelessness is something which affects most of us in one way or the other as we are so vulnerable to the calamities of life. I had my close call to being homeless 10 years ago which led me to spend time with homeless people on the streets of Ottawa and which was a life changing experience for me. Recently, when I read about Carla St.Romain’s (also known as Dawta Maloee) story, a fellow St. Lucian, feeding the homeless in Brooklyn, I felt called to do an interview with her and capture her story in more details and to help her expand her work. When I asked her for an interview, she hesitated at first and said, “I don’t want any money from anyone.”
My response to her was, “What if by telling your story to a bigger audience, you could expand your soul mission and get more people to be involved in feeding the poor and homeless?” She agreed to do an interview. What followed next is a true example of living life from thought to manifestation when we TuneIn to something we are passionate about and StepUp to doing something about it.
I had no idea how I would get to New York but as soon as I got to my office and told some of my colleagues, three of them instantly connected with the idea and within a few days, we had the trip completely planned to match the day which Carla was feeding the homeless. Gemma, arranged for accommodations for us in New Jersey, Nyamuloa arranged the travelling and volunteered her services as a photographer and Annavic was set on her own mission to see Times Square. We embarked on a 7 hour journey to New Jersey where we would spend the night and then an extra one and a half hours to get to Brooklyn the following day.
The universe magically conspires to create opportunities to make things happen.
My interview with Carla was an almost 2 day event as she allowed us into her home and to experience what she does on the streets of Brooklyn. What is quite moving about Carla, is that she is a single mom with three young children and limited financial resources. She lives a very simple life. She has made feeding the poor and homeless a priority in her life because she feels called to this mission. She has been feeding poor and homeless in Brooklyn for the last 8 years and feeds about 200-300 people each month.
“I try not to waste food. I don’t buy clothes, because I don’t need them. I don’t buy anything that I can’t afford. I take my sister’s old shoes and tape them to walk outside. When I do grocery shopping, I buy exactly what I need.”
What inspires Carla to live her soul mission?
Carla confidently told me, “God directs my path.”
Carla comes from a family with a heart of giving. She recalled her grandmother, Martha Prescot, also known as Pepet, who lived in St. Lucia had a big heart for the homeless. She often opened her door to the needy. Several years ago, Carla’s son’s godmother, Suzzette Penniston, gave her the first exposure to feeding the homeless people in Brooklyn. At that time, Carla was going through a difficult time in her own life. Suzette was supportive and encouraged her to cook for the homeless as well. She used to cook 16 plates of food which disappeared very quickly on the streets. Carla joined in the efforts and cooked 50 plates within a couple of months. She said that it was still not enough and within a couple more months, she started cooking 100 plates every other Sunday. Even 100 plates of food is not enough sometimes.
What does it take to feed 100 people a hot meal?
Carla strongly believes in feeding the homeless a complete hot meal. In her experience of the shelters, many homeless people have said that the food they receive at the shelter is not usually a hot meal except for special occasions such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. Her budget is about $200 per feeding. She cooks 30 lbs of rice, 50 lbs of chicken, 40 boxes of pasta, 100 sodas and cabbage and carrot cold slaw or broccoli with mixed vegetables, which is all packaged and presented very nicely in a covered bowl. Carla used to feed fish but most of the people prefer chicken. Even though she is a vegetarian herself, she prepares chicken because she believes in providing what the people would enjoy eating.
How does Carla manage to cook and deliver 100 meals?
When I walked into Carla’s home at 10:30a.m, the house smelt of good food and it was steaming hot! Carla was over the stove in the kitchen and there were already several dishes cooked. She told me that she woke up at 4:00a.m to begin the cooking. She lives in a small space but she has organized it in such a way that allows her to do what she needs to do.
Her mother, Albertha, helps her in the preparation as well as her three children and her sisters Ashley and Shana. Her daughter Kurla, who just turned 14, proudly told me that she helps her mother by seasoning all the chicken the night before. Ashley, Kurla and her mom help with parceling the food into the bowls and her two sons, Kurmani and Kurlan help by organizing the cutlery and serving the drinks.
We headed off to the streets about 12:30p.m. We stopped at the corner of Winthrop and within minutes, the people on the streets were “hailing” Carla. The children knew exactly what to do as the homeless people came forward to receive their meal and thank Carla for it.
Everyone I spoke with were deeply appreciative of Carla’s efforts on the street.
“God will bless her!” She is 100% true to her cause,” Gipsy, a Jamaican man who lives in one of the shelters told me.
“She has been taking care of us on the streets for a long time now! She cooks the food good and gives us a hot meal!”
He was happy to speak about her mission. I asked him about his own story and how he become homeless.
“I used to have a good job.” he said. “But you know, the smoking, I lost my job, I lost my house… things happen and I end up on the streets.” he shared. “But if you come to the shelter you will be surprised at who you will find there. Things are hard for people sometimes… life happens… not everyone can deal with losing their jobs or family affairs… but homelessness is not marked on anyone’s face. It can happen to anyone.”
Michael Patterson is a Grenadian man who moved to Brooklyn a couple of years ago. He spoke highly of Carla’s mission and expressed how important it is for her to continue doing this work. He is not homeless himself but he is often happy to receive Carla’s home cooked hot meal.
“Governments need to keep trying more,” he said. “Not everyone likes the food in the shelters. Sometimes, the food is cold. It is important for people to get a hot meal. Carla is here almost every Sunday with the people, making sure that they have food.”
A few of the people I spoke to on the streets told me that although they are grateful that they do have a shelter to sleep in, they are not always happy with the conditions of the shelter and especially that they are kicked out of the shelter when they break the curfew, such as if they come in after 10:00p.m.
“The management can have more sympathy,” one man said. He had been kicked out twice. For this reason, he only stays in the shelter during the winter time. During the summer time, he prefers to sleep in the park.
Carla sometimes meet the same people but other times new faces pop up on the block. She has a natural welcoming attitude about her and makes sure that she lets everyone know that they are welcome to the food that she has.
“It is not my place to judge whether they are homeless or not. Sometimes, someone is just hungry and I am happy to be there to offer a meal. Sometimes, I meet homeless people who are shy and they also have no idea who I am. It puts a smile of my face to let them know that it is o.k and I am there for them in that moment.”
She spends time talking to each person and finds out how they are doing. She knows many of them by name and sometimes she also has to counsel them. In one case, she recalls that Debra, a woman on the streets, threw away the meal she gave her. This was upsetting to Carla and she told Debra that she was sad that she threw away that meal, because it could have fed someone else.
“However, many of the people on the streets, do not only suffer from homelessness or poverty. They also have metal illnesses which is not my job to fix or deal with alcoholism…but I can simply understand their situation. Some of them have their pride as well and it takes time for them to trust me and to accept the food me.”
Ricardo Charles is Carla’s friend. He supports Carla’s mission completely and provides the transportation for her to transport the meals to the second site, where she continues to feed the homeless on Altantic Avenue. With a broad smile on this face, Ricardo packs up his van and goes off to carry his mission.
How does Carla’s children feel about her mission?
Carla’s children, Kurla, Kurlan and Kirmani are very proud of their mom. It was a pleasure to spend some time with them to talk about homelessness and their thoughts about it. They all understand the value of education and the importance of doing well at school to build a better life. Kurla, who is 14 years old, was the president of her school council in the 6th grade, an honours student and is on the basketball team.
Kurlan had a message for young people.
“Be careful about what you spend your money on. Save some for when you get older. Instead of buying all expensive clothes and things, buy something cheaper so you can save some more. If you have a dollar, split it into four quarters. Give one-quarter away to the poor, save one-quarter and use two quarters to buy the stuff you need. Stay in school and get a good education.”
Indeed, great advice coming from a 10-year-old. It is his hope to continue his mother’s mission when he gets older. “I would like to be able to take care of homeless people in a different way. I want to be able to build them houses and give all the necessary medical care for them within the homes.”
How can we support Carla’s work in feeding the poor and the homeless?
Carla has a Facebook page where you can connect to her work in feeding the poor. It is her vision to feed the poor world-wide and to create better services for the homeless. https://www.facebook.com/feedthepoorworldwide
Here are a few thoughts she would like to share with us:
- Homelessness can happen to anyone. We are all vulnerable to unfortunate circumstances in life.
- Families need to bond closer to each other. Communication is key and we need to show more love and concern for each other. If one person faces unfortunate circumstances, the rest of the family can pull together to help that one member because eventually it affects everyone in the family.
- You can start small by cooking a few meals in your neighbourhood to feed less fortunate people.
- Practice patience with everyone you meet.
- Be careful what we say to each other. Words are extremely important in shaping our lives.
If you would like to know more about the state of homelessness in the USA here is a recent report:
http://www.endhomelessness.org/library/entry/the-state-of-homelessness-2013 by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Here is a very interesting project about the Homeless World Cup – Beating Homelessness Through Football. It gives you an idea of how many people are homeless in each country.
TuneIn today to your own soul mission. We all have a gift – something which we can share with the rest of the world and which will make a positive difference in someone else’s life. We don’t need to win the lottery to make a difference – there are many small initiatives you can take to build your courage muscles for bigger visions. StepUp to live from your soul space. YOU can do it!
Sign up for a TuneIn and StepUp Challenge in 2014. Think of one thing which you would like to do to live your soul mission. We are looking for worldwide participation – join in the fun and win great prizes at the end of 2014 if you get your challenge completed.
A special thank you to my colleague Nyamulola Kambanji who contributed some of the photographs for this blog; for Gemma Follini and her family for hosting us in New Jersey; Annavic Taper for accompanying us on the trip; Wilson St. Jour for supporting with the commuting from New Jersey to Brooklyn ad back, Erneil Johnny for videography which will come out later and most of all, thanks to Carla for opening her home and her heart to letting us cover the story of her soul mission. It certainly took a full team to make this mission work and I am grateful!
Magdalene Cooman-Maxwell is from St.Lucia and currently lives in Ottawa. She blogs as a hobby ONLY for things which will bring inspiration and help make our lives better. You can follow her blog and share it with others to continue the flow of good thoughts into the world. If you have an inspirational story which you would like to get covered please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.