By the time the students from Memorial High School arrived in Brooklyn on a cool morning last month, there were already dozens of men, women and children lined up by the door of the Neighbors Together Corporation.
The five students, all officers of the Key Club and the Future Business Leaders of America, who volunteered in the center’s soup kitchen, arrived at 10 a.m., one hour before the center opened its doors for service.
“We wanted the students to learn responsibility and the importance of planning a career,” said the school’s business education supervisor, Willa White.
“We also wanted the students to have a taste for volunteering,” said a teacher in Memorial High School’s business department, Lynn Gabriel-Mabli.
These students went on this field trip as part of the coat and warm clothing drive sponsored by the two clubs, which together represent more than 100 Memorial High School students. The students donated more than 20 garbage bags filled with coats and warm clothing to bring to the shelter.
“The entire school bus was filled with bags of clothes,” said high school senior and vice president of the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) Jorge Garcia.
The bus only contained the five students and two teachers who supervised the trip.
“It amazed me that men and women could have such generous hearts at such a young age,” said James Mabli, a volunteer with the center. “They are truly role-models.”
Feeding the homeless
The Neighbors Together Corporation, founded in 1982, can only serve food to 20 people at a time, but feeds between 700 and 1,000 people a day.
“They only let in as many in as can sit at a time,” said Lynn Gabriel-Mabli, a teacher in Memorial High School’s business department. As one person leaves the door, another person comes in.
To serve the hundreds of homeless that arrived at the center, the students had to wear hair nets, plastic gloves and aprons. They also had to clean each seat as a person left and a new person sat down.
“In the beginning the students were a little apprehensive,” said Mabli. “But after about 15 minutes they completely took over.”
However, by the end of the afternoon the students were eating and holding conversations with the homeless people whom they were serving.
“At first I said I’m not going to eat anything,” said Garcia, who ate a plate of corned beef hash with the homeless people who came to the center. “But then we all sat and ate with them. It was pretty good. Not bad at all.” Interacting with the people at the center probably taught the students the best lessons.
“You just realize how lucky we are that we can help other people,” said Mabli.
The teachers and some of the homeless people took pictures of the students volunteering.
“You are really making their day,” said Garcia. “One guy was extremely happy to see us. He started jumping in pictures and everything.”
The students may have arrived at Neighbors Together Corporation at 10 a.m., but the members of the two clubs were working since 7:30 a.m. to get the clothes ready to bring over to the center.
“The students came in bright and early before school started to sort and bag the clothing,” said White, explaining that the clothes were sorted by size before they were bagged.
The students organized and promoted the clothing drive themselves, but both students and teachers donated clothing.
“The line of men needing coats and warm clothing stretched far down the street,” said James Mabli, Lynn Gabriel-Mabli’s son, who has been volunteering through the Jesuit Volunteer Corp for about one year.
It was James Mabli who had given his mother the idea for the group to volunteer there.
“For the limited number of families that do have apartments, many of them do not have heat or hot water,” said James Mabli. “They wear the coats and other warm clothing all day and night.”
The center, which began as a soup kitchen, has expanded to include a social services center, health project, AIDS education workshops, clothing assistance and a children’s library. The center serves the Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant, East New York and Bushwick sections of Brooklyn.
Many of the students said that they wanted to go back to the shelter again.
“I would definitely do it again,” said Garcia about volunteering at the shelter. “A group of us were talking about volunteering around here.”