At 7 a.m. every day, a group of volunteers at a building in Elizabeth, New Jersey gathers around, says a prayer and starts cooking. After a couple of hours of making huge quantities of vegetable soup and hot chocolate, the volunteers get on a bus and drive across the river to serve all of it to the poor and homeless of New York City.
Welcome to the The Relief Bus.
The bus’ parent organization, New York City Relief, was started in February 1989 by Richard Galloway, a Dallas entrepreneur who read a passage from the Bible that inspired him to spend the rest of his life serving the needy. He contacted the president of a Bible institute on Long Island, who offered him a school bus to start a mobile outreach center, and The Relief Bus was born.
The organization has grown over the years, launching a second bus in 2002 to expand its outreach capabilities. In 2011, New York City Relief opened its current facility, which features a large kitchen as well as living space for up to 24 volunteers. Volunteers of all ages come from churches across the country to work on the bus for varying amounts of time.
Besides serving food, the bus also has programs to connect the homeless to housing options, drug rehabilitation and even employment opportunities.
But according to Josiah Haken, the organization’s outreach director, the most meaningful contribution the volunteers bring is love and compassion. “A lot of people come to the bus to be seen, to be spoken to, to be loved and to be connected,” he says.
Rishi Iyengar is co-founder of TheFiveFortyFive.com, a single-subject website focusing on the Indian general elections. The website is modeled after Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight.com. Iyengar originally did this story for NY City Lens.