NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — About 20 homeless people walked the steps down to Hidden Grounds coffeeshop last weekend and prepared to celebrate.
It was a belated April 23 Easter dinner sponsored by Archangel Raphael’s Mission, a New Brunswick nonprofit that often aids the homeless. A couple dozen volunteers and some of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants came together for its most vulnerable residents, providing them with hot meals, free clothing and an ear.
The buffet featured pretzels from Destination Dogs, pasta from Catherine Lombardi and three carved turkeys, among other dishes. Cookies and other sweets awaited diners for dessert.
But the event was about more than food.
Upon arriving, the homeless met “personal shoppers.” These volunteers asked guests what kind of clothing they needed and then fetched those items as the homeless enjoyed dinner, Ashley Kaplan, a spokesperson for Archangel Raphael’s Mission, said.
“There was a lot of personal attention given,” she said. “We wanted to be able to engage them and make them feel comfortable.”
To that end, volunteers with a few free minutes sat down and shared a meal with the guests. They talked and, well, celebrated like anyone would any holiday.
“It’s a time when people are looking to give back,” Kaplan said, “but also, from a community perspective, wanting to give the homeless a chance to not feel so left out or alone at a time when people usually have a place to go.”
This was the the nonprofit’s fourth Easter dinner. ARM volunteers have also distributed food outside the New Brunswick traction station, hosted Thanksgiving dinners and assisted the city in running its Code Blue program, which provides shelter to the homeless during particularly cold or stormy winter nights.
“The heart and soul of ARM is our community,” executive director John El Maraghy said in a statement. “Citizens, guests, businesses and civic institutions.”
And the homeless, Kaplan said, are as much a part of this city as anyone else.
After the roughly two-hour meal, the homeless prepared to leave. But before they did, they picked up care packages from the nonprofit group. Each one contained personal hygiene products, snacks and more.
ARM always seeks similar donations for the homeless. Crackers, socks, toothbrushes and feminine products all mean a lot to this community, Kaplan said.
Each donation made or hand lent makes a difference.
“All of what we do is possible thanks to our dedicated volunteers who are hungry for change, our sponsors who believe in our vision and the board who work countless hours to bring us all together,” El Maraghy said.