If St. Vincent taught us one thing, it is the importance of
treating every human being with respect and dignity. This past
year, we were able to revolutionize the way we serve New York
City’s hungry. Through innovative use of technology we have
empowered food pantry clients to make their own food choices as do
average consumers, thereby alleviating any stigma they may feel
regarding accepting assistance.
St. John’s University two years ago assumed sponsorship of the
Bread & Life program, New York City’s second largest food bank,
and this year moved the program to a new 22,000-squarefoot
facility. The converted warehouse, which remains in the program’s
original Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, features
touch-screen terminals that allow clients to select and order their
groceries from the pantry. They also may select meals that are
served in a restaurant-style dining area. This innovative use of
technology prompted The New York Times (June 11, 2008) to describe
Bread & Life as “the emergency food provider of the
In the past, volunteers packed grocery bags and distributed them,
regardless of whether clients wanted those specific items. The
ability to make individual food choices imparts the message that
every individual, regardless of economic status, deserves
respectful treatment, a pillar of Vincentian philosophy.
Tri Minh Duong, C.M., a priest at St. John’s, is an integral part
of Bread & Life, and was featured as a “New Yorker of the Week”
by NY 1 News for “bringing the St. John’s community to people in
need and helping to transform their lives.” Says Bread & Life
Executive Director Tony Butler, “He’s able to motivate people to
volunteer. Every time he comes, he comes with students from St.
John’s, and we couldn’t survive without that effort.” Approximately
200 students each year volunteer at Bread & Life.
The program makes a difference in other ways. It offers ESL
classes, a legal clinic, writing center, non-denominational chapel
and a recycling program. It also provides office space for programs
and social service activities and operates a mobile soup kitchen
that travels to communities in Brooklyn and Queens.
Bread & Life is the embodiment of our Vincentian mission:
engaged, meaningful, respectful service in action.