Volunteers bring food, clothing and a friendly face to York City homeless

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

In a parking lot along South Pershing Avenue on Sunday, Dec. 9, a group of volunteers in York City set up tents and tables with hot food, cold sandwiches and welcoming faces.

The outdoor meal was put together by York Giving Helping Hands, a grassroots volunteer group dedicated to bringing food, clothing and fellowship to the homeless and needy in the city.

From right, Lindsay Noonan, of Springettsbury Township, and Tracy Conrad and Tabbey Peregoy both with Grace Steam, a homeschool co-op, provides a hot meal for York City's homeless as they volunteer with York Giving Helping Hands, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"Whatever we do, it comes from the heart," said Crystal Bowie, a volunteer who was serving coffee and hot chocolate.

Bowie, 51, lives in York City, where she was born and raised. She found YGHH one day over the summer when she was walking around the city, and she's volunteered almost every weekend since.

Bowie said that when YGHH is in the community serving food and giving away clothing, volunteers are able to connect the homeless and needy with outreach organizations that can help in other ways, as well as offer a hug or a kind word.

"When they look and it seems like there's no help available, we're giving them some hope," she said, "and hope is the key."

Lorraine Eady-Simpson, right, of Turning Point Transitional Services, Inc., hands out bags to homeless, adult males alongside York Giving Helping Hands as volunteers serve a hot meal to the homeless in York City, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

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Beginnings: YGHH got its start in July when a man named Javan Matthews bought several pizzas and headed downtown to give the food away to anyone who was homeless or needy.

Since then, the group has grown and changed, morphing into a weekly meal and clothing outreach.

The group's current organizer, Michael Gurreri, of Spring Garden Township, said that although Matthews is no longer actively involved, Gurreri will always credit him as the founder of the group.

Every Saturday and Sunday, the volunteers set up tents in the same parking lot, adjacent to Rabbit Transit's York Transfer Station on West King Street, and between 150 and 200 people come through the line each day.

York Giving Helping Hands Administrator Mike Gurreri, of York City, at The York Dispatch, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

On Dec. 9, they were serving hot dogs with sauerkraut, Spanish rice and beans, and turkey soup, along with hot coffee, hot chocolate and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to take away for later.

Empathy: Gurreri was moved to join the volunteer effort early on.

He said a lot of the people the group serves are learning the names of the volunteers and starting to trust them and open up, sharing their stories.

"They're like shadows to most people — people just walk past them," Gurreri said of the homeless and needy. "But they're human beings."

From right, Tracy Conrad, Tabbey Peregoy, Travis Conrad, 13, and Elizabeth Conrad, 16, all with Grace Steam, a homeschool co-op, serve a hot meal for York City's homeless as they volunteer food, time and service to York Giving Helping Hands, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Gurreri said there are far more homeless in York City than those who are served regularly by YGHH. He said the communities are segmented and territorial, so people won't be flocking to the helping hands tent from all over the city.

Most of the people who go through the food line aren't keen on speaking on the record, but Casey Bowling was willing to share his thoughts about the volunteer effort.

Casey Bowling, 37, talks about York Giving Helping Hands as volunteers serve food to those in need near the Rabbittransit transfer station in York City, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Bowling, 37, is part of the homeless community served by YGHH. He said he's lived in different parts of York County for the past 17 years, and that more people should be doing what the YGHH volunteers are doing by going out into the community.

"I'm a big fan of it," he said of the outreach. "I know that there is care and hope and love."

In addition to providing food, YGHH collects donated clothing to distribute to folks who come through the food line.

Paying it forward: Jennifer Valentine, of Dover Township, arrived at the YGHH tent on Sunday, Dec. 9, with her family to deliver the homemade Spanish rice and beans she'd made for that day's meal.

From left: Angel Valentine, Jennifer Valentine, Shadiamond Gonzalez and Isaiah Crespo stopped by the York Giving Helping Hands tent in York City to drop off Spanish Rice for the meal.

Valentine, along with her husband, Angel Valentine, and her children, 16-year-old Shadiamond Gonzalez and 13-year-old Isaiah Crespo, learned about YGHH through Facebook and began helping out about three weeks earlier.

"I've been in the same situation," Jennifer Valentine said of being homeless.

For a period of time before she met her husband, Valentine said she lived in her car with her children because of a domestic violence situation.

There were people helping her when she needed it, Valentine said, and now she wants to pay that kindness forward.

Volunteer Kim Sanger hangs coats on a rack while York Giving Helping Hands also serves hot food to those in need in York City, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Receiving help: Dwayne Adams, 49, visits the YGHH tent every Saturday.

"It's pretty much made me not hungry during the weekends," Adams said. "They gave me free clothes, and there are people to talk to and hang out with."

Adams, who's originally from Baltimore, moved to York City in July.

He was the drummer in a successful Baltimore-based band called Great Train Robbery, but when his mother died of cancer about 2½ years ago, Adams said, he lost everything.

He ended up living in the woods for a time with only two garbage bags to hold his belongings, and his outlook was bleak.

Dwayne Adams, formerly of Baltimore, talks about his current experience of being homeless during an interview at Martin Library in York City, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

A friend ended up giving him a ride to York City, which Adams said has been an improvement over Baltimore.

He spends a couple of days each week working at McDonald's. When he's not working, he sits at the library, where he listens to music, meditates and keeps himself out of trouble, in his own words.

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Adams is currently staying at the LifePath Christian Ministries shelter, but he said his goal is to be off the streets within about two months. He said he would like to continue working in a fast-paced restaurant kitchen because he likes to stay busy.

"Trust me, there’s a lot of good people out here," he said of the homeless community in York. "We’re all in the same situation, trying to get off the streets."

For more information about volunteering or donating, join the Facebook group for York Giving Helping Hands, which currently has nearly 800 members.

York Giving Helping Hands volunteers build their tent before setting up a food line to feed the homeless in York City, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo