Wednesday, November 24, 2021. Partly sunny and very cold, yesterday in New York with temps topping at 40 degrees midday and down below 30 degrees at night. I made a trip to Zabar’s mid-morning when weekdays it is usually quiet at that hour. Yesterday it was jammed and the checkouts all had wait lines. Getting ready for the big day.
The prep lines for picking up food for Thanksgiving began more than a month before for City Harvest — the largest food rescue organization in New York. City Harvest was founded 39 years ago in 1982 by one woman Helen verDuin Palit. She had one genius idea from one simple meal.
Working as a volunteer at a soup kitchen, Ms. Palit was already aware of the great and growing need to feed people who came to the soup kitchen for lunch. One day, while dining with friends at a restaurant nearby, eating a potato skins appetizer, it occurred to her to ask the chef what he did with the insides; the potato.
Simple answer: he did what he did with all foodstuffs unused at the end the day — he threw it away.
Aha! the lady concluded; and told the chef how much they could use what’s left over at the local soup kitchen. The next day 30 gallons of cooked potatoes were delivered. They were immediately put to use to thicken the soup that was being served.
Waste not; want not. It was an idea whose time had come. New York always had excess food left at the end of the day in its thousands of restaurants and organizations. Collecting that food by the end of each day at local restaurants, and re-distributing it in neighborhoods to benefit those in need, was Common Sense.
Thanks to Helen Palit, Jason Kliot and several other New Yorkers who were troubled by the large numbers who didn’t get enough to eat while huge quantities of excess food was going to waste daily, food rescue was born.
They began by reaching out to restaurants and retailers. They enlisted friends, and borrowed cars, and set up a hotline. With only volunteers in their own cars for the first seven months, hundreds of thousands of pounds of food was collected and delivered. All of the food was picked up and immediately delivered to soup kitchens and food pantries.
And so it began. Over the next 35 years the organization grew to include 26 trucks, 160 staff members, thousands of volunteers, a Food Rescue Facility, and the generous support of many food and financial donors. To date, City Harvest has rescued and delivered more than 950 million pounds of nutritious food for hungry New Yorkers.
They recognized the practical purpose that this surplus food could serve if directed to New Yorkers who needed it, be it the working mom having trouble making ends meet each month; or the senior neighbor in the apartment upstairs, living on a fixed income, or the family across the street saddled with a large unexpected medical bill.
I first heard about it in the early ’90s when I started writing the New York Social Diary. Looking for good deeds to tell the readers about, my friend Joy Ingham led me to City Harvest. By that time they were holding an annual fundraising dinner where they’d honor individuals who helped the cause, as well as the truck drivers who deliver the food to the neighborhoods all over the city. They ran a video of a trucker’s daily schedule.
The drivers love their work. Seriously. Firstly they are the purveyors of the goods to distribute among the families and individuals in need. They have the daily experience helping their neighbors. More than distributing food is achieved; the act of “Giving” is made real for all involved. This is a gift in any neighborhood, especially in an enormous community.
Four decades ago, Helen verDuin Palit’s potato skins appetizer led to a small group of concerned New Yorkers to act. Today, City Harvest is New York City’s largest food rescue organization, helping to feed more than 1.5 million New Yorkers who are struggling to put meals on their tables.
This year they will have rescued 111 million pounds of food and delivered it, free of charge, to hundreds of food pantries, soup kitchens and other community partners across the five boroughs. Their programs help food-insecure New Yorkers access nutritious food that fits their needs and desires; and strengthen the local food system, building a path to a food-secure future for all New Yorkers.
Keeping the ball rolling and the trucks moving, back on a Monday, October 25th, Gary Player hosted the second annual Celebrity Chefs & Friends Golf and Tennis Tournament benefiting City Harvest at the Alpine Country Club in Demarest, New Jersey. The tournament alone raised enough to help City Harvest feed 100,000 New York families for a day during a time of continued high need due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
In his deep South African accent, Player launched the festivities with a rousing speech reminiscing about his time spent with the late Nelson Mandela and the importance of making sure all children have the food they need to thrive. Cheers of “Gary for President” echoed through the crowd.
Former pro golfer, model, and social media personality Paige Spiranac led her team to victory with an assist from Six-time Stanley Cup Champion Mark Messier. Former Yankee pitcher CC Sabathia arrived late from Chicago but managed to sink a few key putts to help his team finish third. And NYSD’s very own JH, along with his brother Jason Hirsch, Edward McFarland of Ed’s Lobster Bar, as well Generation Harvest Chair, Greg Buhay, came in second place.
Tournament Founder and organizer Herb Karlitz, who arranged for Spiranac to return this year, also secured Gary Player, one of the greatest players of all time to host the food and wine-centric event which benefitted City Harvest.
“More than 35 celebrity chefs, restaurateurs and personalities including Geoffrey Zakarian, Marcus Samuelsson, Alex Lee, Michael Anthony, Kerry Heffernan, Alfred Portale, Kevin Liles, Dale Talde, Francois Payard, Melba Wilson, and Dino Gato played golf or tennis,” and then served up their favorite dishes throughout the day, explained Karlitz.
Cote New York Restaurant Chef David Shimm and former tour player Tsolak Gevorikian won the Tennis Doubles competition. Celebrity Chef and TV personality Marcus Samuelsson won for “best dressed” for his soccer jersey tennis outfit.
The sold-out event raised enough money to feed 100,000 New Yorkers facing food insecurity,” City Harvest CEO Jilly Stephens said.
“It’s confounding to me that we spend millions of dollars to send people into space, just for fun, when there are families right here with no food on their table,” said Gary Player. Nelson Mandela once commented that “Gary Player’s accomplishments as a humanitarian and stateman are equal to and may even surpass his accomplishments as an athlete.”
A few weeks earlier, dozens of New York City’s leading restaurants had joined forces to celebrate the city’s vibrant Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities for “A Taste of Asia in NYC,” an elegant tasting event in New York’s iconic Madison Square Park.
The event raised more than $1.1 million for Apex for Youth, City Harvest, and Madison Square Park Conservancy.
Curated by co-chair, restaurateur Simon Kim of Michelin-starred COTE Korean Steakhouse, the event featured dozens of hand-selected restaurants serving Asian-inspired bites, honoring the diversity and vitality of AAPI culture and cuisine in New York City and beyond. Celebrities including journalist and author Lisa Ling, fashion designers Prabal Gurung and Phillip Lim, actor Ronny Chieng, and film director and restaurateur Eddie Huang were among the more than 700 guests attending who danced to music by DJ Mona Matsuoka.
Participating restaurants for the event, whose co-chairs included Hajin & Michael Chung, Danny Meyer, Phillip Lim and Wen Zhou, included Wu’s Wonton King, Milu, Chinese Tuxedo, Mimi Cheng’s, NEW WONJO, LittleMad, COTE Korean Steakhouse, DANJI, Nami Nori, o d o, Thai Diner, Thaimee Love, Wayan, GUPSHUP, Rahi, Junoon, Saigon Social, Di An Di, Shake Shack, Undercote , Double Chicken Please, Bessou, Kopitiam, Mŏkbar, Jean-Georges, EN Japanese Brasserie, Nom Wah, Falansai, Win Son, Pinch Chinese, Madame Vo, Melba’s Restaurant and more.
“City Harvest is proud to stand in solidarity with New York City’s AAPI communities,” said Jilly Stephens. “When our board member Simon Kim approached us with this idea, we knew it would be an important moment to show our support and appreciation for the city’s diverse, vibrant AAPI communities that we have served for nearly 40 years. We are so grateful to Simon, the team at Cote, all our participating Food Council chefs, Apex for Youth, and Madison Square Park Conservancy for their partnership in this effort. We remain committed to ensuring all our neighbors have the food they need to thrive — one day, one meal, one New Yorker at a time.”
And just last Wednesday, the Fifth Avenue Association kicked off the holidays with a grand Opening Ceremony at the Pulitzer Fountain across from The Plaza Hotel. The unveiling marks the beginning of the “Fifth Season,” a celebration of the holiday décor, music, and traditions that flourish with Fifth Avenue, the most globally renowned street for forging memories and partaking in the seasonal festivities. The one-hour event included a musical performance by The Brooklyn Youth Chorus and magnificent light show to bring to life the grand installation.
This family-friendly event was open to the public. Caroling was encouraged, social media welcomed and seasonal hot beverages by Angelina Paris were enjoyed.
City Harvest was this year’s charitable partner. Large toy installations that line the Avenue will allow tourists and patrons to donate directly to New York’s first and largest food rescue organization.
Photographs by Ken Goodman (Golf outing); Yvonne Tnt/BFA.com & Ben Hider (Taste of Asia); Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images (FAS). Featured photo: Ming Chen.