THE MORNING AFTER A Valentines Thank-You to The YES!Solutions StreetCorner Gourmets Team

Thanks to our volunteers

Thanks to our volunteers (especially the little ones!)

I wish you might imagine the immediate feeling of ease and confidence that permeates our bland inner city street corner as soon as you arrive, just because you’re there. Thank you for your big hearts, your hard work, your flexibility, your attentiveness, your leadership, your thoughtful conversation with our waiting guests, your gentleness and playfulness with the little children, your friendship with me.

You made “Belonging” real for everyone.

You made all the  “Who Cares?”  commercial Valentines hype into a few hours of personal meaning for so many, including some new “gentry” in the changing demographics at the fringes of our neighborhood. A few of the day’s onlookers jogged over as we were folding our tent and could not say enough about their awe, their desire to volunteer next time.

I hope you are getting some rest today.  Each of you blessed my day, uplifting so many of our neighbors and strangers and passersby.  Gentleness and humor and kindness were in the wind yesterday.

Thanks, particularly, for hanging in ’til the end, collapsing boxes and leaving our work area as close to whistle-clean as it could be while we were still in action.  You’ll be heartened to know that when I walked over to the firehouse after dark to borrow a broom while Abdul was closing down his gas lines and making his “kitchen cafe” ready to tow away, the firemen grinned kindly at me and said, “We got your back, Mary.  We’ll send somebody over.  Don’t worry about it”.  I was a little stiff in the joints from the long day on the sidewalk, and I was the only one left to sweep up candy wrappers, scraps of foil, occasional soda cans, forks, and food bits that were surprisingly few for the numbers of people we had there during 11 hours, but too many to bend and pick up individually along 3 blocks of sidewalk.  I was SOoooo grateful to our FDNY partners for offering to take care of the last of the clean-up.  I padlocked the gate at the Parks Sanitation Site at “the Projects”, climbed over my last icy snow pile of the day, plopped into my car, and was immediately as good as home.  BIG SIGH, bigger smile, inside and out

Another sweet day with loving family and friends, bringing a little levity to a working Saturday for a few hours, softening the edges of life a bit on one street corner in a big city.  Thanks to each of you for giving us yet another chance to do it. HAPPY VALENTINES, MY LOVES!

Valentine's Day Napkins

Valentine’s StreetCorner Gourmet’s on the Street – What We Absorb

Valentine's Day Napkins

Towel Art Created for the Guests at our Valentine’s Picnic

One of our YES! mantras that most of us know from personal experience is:

“The amount of Good that any one of us can do is directly proportionate to the amount of inconvenience that we’re willing to absorb”.

One new-ish YES!Solutions volunteer, a First-Grade teacher in a NYC public school in Queens, invited her 29 six-year-olds to listen to a story about The StreetCorner Gourmets, as told by a little guy many of us have known for most of his young life.  Adham Mussa, whose Daddy, Abdul, is our Valentines Winter Picnic’s all-day pushcart chef, proudly and excitedly told his classmates, last week, about  “Mary’s party on the street” where he has helped his Dad since he was barely a year old.

In the early days of his life, Adham, born in Egypt on the same day that his Dad became a U.S. citizen, kept a few of us running to keep him safe on the street while Daddy stood in frigid cold and cooked and served and smiled and charmed everyone by his captivating enthusiasm and kindness.  Little Adham took to the street naturally, danced and ran and jumped, hid from view in the old “I See You” game with anyone who played-back.  Sometimes, he was tossed unbelievably high into the air by his Daddy, taking a momentary break from the grille.  Laughing and cavorting, the duo astounded us all.  They were acrobats and dancers and chefs in equal measure.  Their unexpected antics drew as many passersby and cheers as Abdul’s aromatic meal did.

Now, almost 5 years later, Daddy still produces the tantalizingly delicious StreetCorner Gourmets Valentines hot picnic meal, with a little less acrobatic entertainment — but his (now) 2 little sons and their 2-year old sister continue to charm all of us, all ages.

Adham always has been fascinated by our signature Valentines Eggs, our “edible valentines”.  He loves the idea that we cook and color and decorate eggs and write messages on them just to make people who are hungry and cold feel better and laugh a little, and then eat until they’re not hungry any more.  Now that he’s become a master of crayons and markers and exotic designs, himself, he thought it might be fun for his class to make a batch of Valentines Eggs for the picnic.  His gracious teacher co-presented with him to introduce the “social awareness and communication” project.  She offered to cook the eggs herself and bring them to class on Friday, the day before our picnic.  Adham and she invited me to come to class Friday and help.  I did.

Twenty-three of the twenty-nine First-Graders (six down with seasonal respiratory “stuff”) diligently worked on the 9 dozen eggs that their teacher had cooked and colored in basic pink while the rest of them were enjoying their unanticipated Snow Day the day before.  In the first moments of decorating, a half dozen eggs were crushed by earnest little hands that squeezed them a little too hard, or pressed too hard with a crayon while lettering their sweet messages.  Wiping their tears, I offered to eat these myself — but had a little competition from Adham.  Most of the little artists repeatedly called me over to ask how to spell a word, or to show me the ice cream pizza they had drawn on their eggs to make someone laugh, or to proudly read me an amazingly lengthy, thoughtful sentence that somehow fit on an egg, in scrunched baby lettering, and sounded a bit like group therapy.  “Don’t be sad”, and “Try to smile”, and “Be happy; please don’t be poor”.

When all the pink eggs had been “messaged”, 23 fervent little artists wanted to do more, so I invited them to decorate the sheet of paper towel that each had used as a desk-protector.  They agreed that their “work mats” could be recycled as “egg napkins” which Adham would give to our guests on the street .  He stipulated “. . . but only AFTER everyone sees them”.

Please do.  SEE, here.  ENJOY innocent, thoughtful, caring kiddie messages from a bunch of beautiful little NYC children from a school that inspires and challenges  children from 292 ethnicities, in 10 grades from pre-K to 8, and from their lovely teacher.

LOVE, TOO, from my heart to all of you who enable the StreetCorner Gourmets and YES!Solutions to bring surprise moments of companionship, relief, and caring to thousands of hungry (tummy- AND soul-hungry) New Yorkers all year long.


2017 Valentines Winter Picnic-on-the-Street

2017 Valentines Winter Picnic on the Street

We’re getting ready for another sweet day of thoughtfulness, tenderness, humor, compassion, and whimsy on the street again Saturday February 11th – our annual Valentines Winter Picnic-On-The-Street.

The StreetCorner Gourmets’ annual Valentines Winter Picnic-On-The-Street is a tender, kind mid-Winter day of mindfulness of people who are simply . . . COLD.   Cold compounds their already difficult times of hunger, homelessness, poverty, anxiety, and pervasive uncertainty.   Then, WE come along. Shivering, shared, turns into heart warmth and makes the street lovely and lively for a few hours.

Aside from coming to the street to be thoughtful hosts to lonesome grandmas and grandpas and little kids and so many discouraged men and women, all of us – students, friends, staff — can help most by:

Hosting an egg cooking/coloring party on Friday afternoon and bringing your egg creations with you on Saturday for messaging.

Volunteers on Saturday will help write messages on colored eggs. We’ll give 120 dozen freshly cooked and colored eggs. Let’s do it!

Baking brownies and cookies on Friday, too. Baked goods can be portioned and bagged by the Saturday morning crew at the meal site or any other group work space. 400 bags

Anyone who knits or crochets can make warm headbands or ear warmers. 500-800, handmade or purchased, will keep as many hearts and twice as many ears warm

Most important, as always, is the one-on-one personal companionship and conversation while guests wait on line. We can keep 30-40 volunteers busy on the street, simply companioning our guests, conversing, sharing family stories and laughter, listening.

Packaging and assembling donated baked goods and other gifts that arrive at our prep site unsorted/unbagged. We will keep another 30 volunteers busy indoors from 9:30am to about 1:00pm on Saturday, organizing and personalizing giveaways.

Would some of our kids want to perform?  Music and song are part of our tradition.  Tell us in advance so that we can arrange for a rented box truck as our Performance Stage.

2016 StreetCorner Gourmets Christmas Winter Picnic-On-The-Street

Here’s a short video of our Boys Hope Girls Hope Team at work to make the 2016 StreetCorner Gourmets Christmas Winter Picnic-On-The-Street a success.

They took initiative—shovelling snow in the earliest morning hours, breaking down accumulating sidewalk ice, salting the sidewalks and long flight of steps outside our borrowed church basement workspace, helping adjacent Food Pantry guests carry their shopping carts and bundles up icy steps, clearing storm drains at the street corner and cutting paths through slippery plowed and unplowed slush to make it easier for the neighborhood Food Pantry guests to accomplish their mission there and then join our StreetCorner Gourmets guests on our waiting line across the street.

Our young men were unequivocally admirable from early morning right thru into the afternoon. They worked intensely, vigorously. Our young ladies brought their blankets mid-morning after a difficult commute, and took up their companionship role just as the snow turned to icy wet sleet. With contagious good spirit, our teens accompanied our guests, one-on-one, during their wait while weather-delayed deliveries of blankets and food ingredients were assembled indoor and on our Distribution Center truck. Just by their presence, one-on-one with our street guests on line in the slapping winds, our teens reassured everyone that each would have an opportunity to select from assorted gifts for their children, as well as snatch up our jumbo pastrami sandwiches and fresh pears and grapes and a new blanket. It was a most challenging, but very sweet, day for all.

The StreetCorner Gourmets have been there when nobody else in their right mind would have been, in all kinds of windstorms and rain and snow and (some years) bright sunbeams, for 49 years. Not sure what that says about our right minds, but the neighbors who ventured out of the projects, shelters, doorways, and subways early yesterday when the day was at its worst KNEW we would be there.

We were all cold and wet-thru after hours on the street yesterday, but the smiles. the sincere, warmhearted, kind interactions and personal storytelling and genuine enthusiasm of our young team and all our other volunteers kept us warm enough to endure it for a few hours. We were warmer inside than out.

The Boys Hope Girls Hope team brought abundant KINDNESS to Christmas for the brave and hardy women and men of the neighborhood who stood with us in the cold with grace. They had come out into the freezing day hoping for far less than they found our team was giving. So it is with a life of kindness. We can’t fix all that is broken, but we CAN and DO bring human compassion and companionship into people’s lives.

Ten Ways to Be the Most Valuable Player from Sister Mary

1.Learn Teamwork. You can’t be your best by yourself.
2. Work for Results. You’ll get the results you work for.
3. Persevere. Desperation makes your feet run faster.
4. Pick yourself up after each down and keep going. It’s the only way to get to the goal.
5. Try something new. The worst that could happen is that it might not work THIS time.
6. Help others succeed. Give somebody else a chance to score.
7. Enjoy the Sweat of Success. You will if you’ve earned it.
8. Listen. The voice inside that you’ve been ignoring might be the Inspiration you asked for.
9. Win graciously. Lose Confidently. You’ll do plenty of both in a lifetime.
10. Earn Leadership. Make sure you’re worth looking up to.

Joelle Stonitsch on Bike

2,600 Miles on a Dumpster Bike to the 5-Boro Bike Tour

On May 3rd, 2015, the YES! Team will roll out as a group, ride on in pairs on open roads and bridges, through the towering granite and glass canyons as part of the 5-Boro Bike Tour. We are riding to raise funds for a Summer Basketball Camp for 4th graders in East Harlem. But how did we get started biking for the kids? It began in 2006, when Joelle Stonitsch was a teen and had an idea… Below is an excerpt from a newsletter from several years ago which describes how the effort got started and has since blossomed into one of YES! Solutions’ largest events of the year. We’ve been biking ever since…

joelleOne of the greatest things about working with kids is their free thinking. They’ll give an idea a chance.

Riding for fitness seemed like a good idea to teen Joelle Stonitsch of Ticonderoga, NY. But, she needed a bike. Friend Chuck Reeder of Port Henry had a source.

“We pulled it out of the dump,” says Joelle. “Nothing of the original bike remains now except that pukey green frame and the handlebars. It’s a really ugly old bike, but I didn’t have one so this worked.”

The pair worked-out on the steep slopes on both sides of the Champlain Valley. “Chuck put on a new chain, sprockets, tires, rims, and pedals. I even got a new seat, although it’s starting to look a little old now”, Joelle recounts.

“By Winter 2006, I knew I wanted to do this not just for myself. I wanted to do something to show kids that they matter to a lot of people and we really want them to have good chances in life”. YES!Solutions’ Back-To-School Kids became Joelle’s passion. “I didn’t want to lose momentum just because it was freezing outside”, Joelle explains.

She and her brother Kyle rigged up her bike in the family’s small living room, cabling its gears to stationary blocks and a computer. She logged 1,552 mostly uphill miles in 2006, another 672 in Winter 2007 alone. So far in 2008, Joelle has added more than 400 new miles to her dumpster bike – her biking time somewhat compromised now that she is on the rig many days and nights with Ticonderoga’s Finest as a volunteer firefighter and EMT in the mountain town.
Hometown heroes. One young woman and her friend/trainer looked at the tough roads some kids have to climb and said, “I can do something.”

Fellow Ticonderoga firefighters have started debating whether to attempt the big ride with Joelle on September 13th this year. Heroics about tandem bikes and spandex are as far as they’ve come so far. They think they can do it in 16 hours v. Joelle’s 8-9. Locals are suggesting that they flip a coin and do it as a relay. Loser takes the hills between Ti and Glens Falls. Winner gets the Wimp Run from Glens Falls to Albany. Rain or shine.

Jay Martin, Albany attorney and board member of YES!Solutions, greeted Joelle at the Finish Line in September 2007. “It’s amazing what one person can do. She’s a student, for cryin’ out loud. She’s working part time to pay her way through college. She’s an unpaid volunteer firefighter and EMT – and that’s a big deal in a small remote town like Ti that is far from any big city resources. And she didn’t even have a bike! That’s determination.”

To make a donation, please contribute through the link below.

Thanksgiving StreetCorner Gourmets 2014 Wrap-up – THANK YOU.

Thanksgiving, for the StreetCorner Gourmets, was a grand, touching, intense, lighthearted 3 days of kitchen-ing at its best, followed by a long 12-hours of celebrating and shivering in tempo with our street guests — most of whom had no place to warm-up afterward.

I'm Tired Mom - Are We Almost Finished

I’m Tired Mom – Are We Almost Finished

Then, 2 days of dogged clean-up. Even little grand-niece Ella needed a nap on mommy’s back in between performing her dances and drawings in the kitchen for the handful of us diehards while we cleaned up our acre of borrowed space and reloaded our truck with our unique collection of curbside “catering” equipment.

We had a record team of earnest, eager volunteers on the street this year, escorting our guests, one-on-one, for the entire day. What an inspiring exchange of hearts, thoughts, and truly believable caring took place during these spontaneous companionships!

Dozens of little kids played and nibbled together, pocketing small bags of happily prepared holiday candies for later.

Our stuffing-filled puff pastries appetizers were snatched up almost faster than our young servers could carry them up and down the line.

Smoked turkey “ham” kabobs with juicy grapes and mustard balsalmic drizzle were gone before you could describe them.

Hearty hunks of zesty corn bread, steaming cupsful of sweet potato bisque, and all the rest of the feast were dispensed cheerily to wide-eyed, smiling, personally escorted dinner guests for hours and hours, through sleet and snow and the never-drying soggy clothes that kept all of us shivering.

Home-made cranberry sauce was a big hit, as were the tall stacks of freshly made sweet potato pies. And the creamy mashed turnips and “ham”-spiked collard greens — GONE.

Candied sweet potatoes (“Heavenly Sweets”) and our signature apple-sage-pecan stuffing (“Stuffing From Heaven,”) cooked by students and their families and teachers in 2 NY prep schools disappeared like the wet snow, at about the same time.

Our baked apples-pears-figs compote with buttery caramel sauce and freshly whipped cream was gone long before we ran out of turkey.

Thanksgiving Late Night Crew

Thanksgiving Late Night Crew

One thing we never run out of is the weatherproof comfort of love. Thoughtful, gentle, compassionate, untiring kindness has built a tradition on our street corner. Even people walking by feel it. This year, an unusually large number of our guests shared stories of how they first found us, and why they keep coming back, even though their circumstances now might be a bit better than they were then.

Wherever each of us was at 8:00 on Thanksgiving night, our inner ears already had heard the heartfelt, embarrassed plea of one man who walked by in the dark, after everyone except our core team of 3 had gone, as we loaded the last of our gear onto our truck, “I AM SO-OOOO HUNGRY — DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING AT ALL FOR ME TO EAT? — I WILL EAT ANYTHING”. This plea, for almost 50 years, is the root of our Thanksgiving tradition on the street. We had a small pan of fruit compote, a half-pan of stuffing, and a WHOLE Turkey from one of our Long Island donors that we packaged up for him . . . with deepest joy and simple hugs and jokes about the chilling night.

There’s nothing in the world like a StreetCorner Gourmets Thanksgiving-On-The-Street.

Years ago, I asked our hardy late-night StreetCorner Gourmets “Did you ever wake up dreaming that the world had become a place in which everyone just looked out for each other?” I answered for them, “It isn’t a dream. You just made it happen. For a few hours. On a street corner”.

You did it again.

My deepest love and thanks to our inspiring StreetCorner Gourmets teams who came to work in our Command Central kitchen, who came to dinner, who cooked and served, brought funds and funds and upbeat spirts,

  • from all 5 boros of New York City,
  • from the North and South Shores of Long Island,
  • from the immigrant communities of the South Bronx and Queens and their older anchoring neighborhoods,
  • from coastal Connecticut and the rolling Litchfield Hills,
  • from Westchester, Rockland, Albany, Putnam, and Montgomery,
  • from Bolton Landing on Lake George and Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain;
  • from Bethlehem-Pennsylvania and dozens of towns strung across New Jersey,
  • from Washington DC and Boston and Cincinnati,.
  • from Sarajevo-Bosnia Herzagovina and Cairo-Egypt,
  • from Atlanta-Georgia and West Palm Beach-Florida,
  • from the village of Tralee on Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula
  • and my many long time business colleagues who reached to us across the entire U.S.A. from the industry meetings that I skipped in our nation’s capitol and in San Francisco.

THANK YOU, from upwards of 2,000 New Yorkers, many of them children, who had a very happy Thanksgiving at YOUR table, the StreetCorner Gourmets Table, a bench in a bus stop.


Can We Have Some Fun Together? Tuesday Evening, April 29th

SPRING is when we’re surrounded and energized anew by the bursting energy of the Young. And the understanding smiles of the Young Again.

A dozen of my boys in Boys Hope Girls Hope welcomed Spring by signing up to ride with the YES! Team in New York City’s 5-Boro Bike Tour, coming up on the first Sunday of May. Mostly, my boys are using borrowed bikes. Kindness is contagious. Thanks to all of you who let us borrow your bikes for the day on Sunday May 4th. Some have been picked up already, and the boys are working out every morning!

YES!Solutions (the YES! Team) is raising funds in the NYC 5-Boro Bike Tour to bring summer basketball camp to a couple of dozen younger kids in East Harlem schools who otherwise will be home alone all day every day, once school closes in June–all day, all week, all summer. I’m proud of my Boys Hope Girls Hope boys who offered to ride 40 miles for a bunch of little kids, to give them a real Summer.

Sports Angels, another of the charities through which I regularly bring caring adults and resources to my kids, is joining with YES!Solutions this year to support my boys and the rest of the YES! Team riders (28) for a few hours on traffic-free NYC streets, bridges, and parks on all sides of the rivers and harbor on Sunday May 4th.. Many more of us, family and friends and sponsors, will be in the sidelines in the 5 boros to cheer them on.

Sports Angels Casino Night on Tuesday April 29th is our pre-bike ride fund-raising celebration. Can you make it? You can come as my guest–in which case I will take the risk and pay your admission, and ask you to use your winnings to sponsor one of my boys in the bike ride. OR, you can pay your own $200 admission at the door, receive unlimited food and drink for the night, and a starting purse of $200 in chips. I’ll still ask you to sponsor one of my boys in the bike ride–but you can say “No, thanks” without guilt.. Admission is $200–no obligation, no guilt; just a bunch of good-hearted friends sharing a few laughs, a lot of very realistic hope, and a couple of hours of games.

Details are in the Invitation posted on this YES!Solutions website and on Facebook.

It would be so nice to relax with you for awhile. Please come if you can–even for just a few hands of poker or a few rolls of the dice. I’m not a very good “pray for me” mascot; it doesn’t usually work, but I will stand with you and have some fun together. Let me know, please, so I can have your name on the list at the door.

Thank you for all you do for me and my kids.

What do snow – icicles – red eggs – brownies have in common?

A lot of playfulness, love, gentle thoughtfulness, whimsy, kindness–and the laughter and thanks of many street-worn people who have low-to-no expectations when it comes to being someone’s Chosen.

Loneliness isn’t as impermeable as it feels from either side of the isolation. My family, friends, co-workers, and supporters/members of the StreetCorner Gourmets, during 45 years, have been poking holes in poverty, hunger, and isolation on the streets of our city, a few moments at a time. Our Valentines Winter Picnic-On-The-Street, coming up on Saturday February 8th, will slosh through the muck and snow of city streets for yet another icy cold, heartwarming few hours of play-eat-hug.

Valentines truly is the most lighthearted of our Three Lonely Holidays (Thanksgiving-Christmas-Valentines) On The Street. It always seems to catch the neighborhood by surprise, popping up on an otherwise blah-blah post-Christmas, post-Super Bowl wintry Saturday when celebrating being loved is really not on anybody’s mind. It’s probably the loneliest of the Three Lonely Holidays, just written off by most as not being relevant to them.

And there we’ll be–

  • a familiar umbrella’d NYC pushcart with a dancing, attentive, deeply caring and playful immigrant dad and his toddler sons, with their mama and their recently widowed grandma; Baba/Daddy himself road-weary and worn from his unrelenting 7-day 15-hour work days, cooking his nose-taunting chicken-vegetable saute and rolling it (this year) inside fresh corn tortillas for quick’n’easy take-away
  • a dozen fervent teenage boys from Boys Hope Girls Hope, some of them immigrants from the same parts of the world as those who are curious enough to investigate the enticing music and aromas, cheerily distributing their trademark brownies (made in cupcake tins, with an oreo cookie and a blob of peanut butter on the bottom of each brownie cup (!), truly Boy-style
  • ebullient little kids from the surrounding housing projects who proudly clamber into place behind the service table to set up and giggle at the annual mosaic of colored eggs, happily foisting a half dozen of their personal favorites on each arriving guest
  • generous parents and grandparents, doctors and lawyers, firefighters and corrections officers, pharmaceutical salesmen and teachers, insurance and investment executives, retirees and “differently-abled” neighbors in wheel chairs, artists and taxi drivers, elders and children, and a pair of giant-size six-foot-plus brothers whose big hearts and baby minds find pure delight in carrying gifts to everyone else — all happily munching juicy fresh strawberries from a flock of junior waiters who enthusiastically invite hosts and guests to share valentines appetizers
  • a pretty young woman who brings her DJ gear to our “soundstage” (a rented U-Haul box truck) to fill the street with song, and a coterie of teens and street guests who become persuaded to take a turn at the mic, play Willie’s drums, spin a tune on Riley’s keyboard, sing a favorite “oldie”
  • welcoming, giving friends from all five boros and the farthest reaches of the NYC-metro area, and as far apart as Ticonderoga-NY, Kent-CT, the East End of Long Island, Morristown-NJ, the Brandywine Valley-PA, and all around Harlem, sharing hugs and conversation as they personally accompany one guest at a time through the buffet of hand-knit, hand-crocheted “Warmies” (ear warmers, scarves, hats, gloves), decorated personalized Sweet Treats bags (brownies, cookies, candies), small pouches of personal toiletries (hand sanitizer, mouthwash, lip balm, tissues, shampoo, toothpaste), and Abdul’s tantalizing freshly made Halal Tortillas.

The best moment of the day? When each departing guest and personal host embrace at the end of the buffet, and mean it when they say heartfully to each other, “I’m really glad I met you.”

YOU will be there, too, in my heart and in all the merriment of the day.


The Interns and Sister Mary

Our good friend and colleague, Peter Bickford, recently wrote a blog post on his website about YES!Solutions’ involvement with the Insurance Federation of New York’s (IFNY) summer internship program. Six high school students from difficult backgrounds had the opportunity to be exposed to the working environment of various insurance companies and professional firms over an eight week period. Peter wrote a column for Insurance Advocate magazine discussing the value of the program. Click here to read the article.

And please visit Peter’s website to read his full post about the program.