Soup Kitchen and Women's Shelter Donations Drop Despite Park Slope's Wealth
PARK SLOPE — The soup kitchen on Fourth Avenue and Sackett Street doesn't start serving lunch until 11:30 a.m., but the line to get inside stretched down the block by 11 a.m. on a recent weekday.
About a dozen hungry people of all ages, races and circumstances waited quietly for the doors to open at Park Slope Christian Help, Inc. (CHIPS) as volunteers raced around inside, setting out trays of chicken and pasta salad, bread and bananas.
The charity is just a few blocks from a new luxury high-rise where tenants are in an uproar over the possible loss of their doorman service. But while Park Slope has grown more glitzy in the past several years, CHIPS, founded in 1972, is not seeing its fortunes rise as well.
Though the need for its services shows no signs of slowing, the nonprofit has seen a steep drop in donations, said Executive Director Denise Scaravella.
"We're facing a financial crisis at the moment," Scaravella said. "Over the last three years, the donor base has gotten older and donations have dwindled."
If monetary donations don't pick up, CHIPS could be forced to cut its already tiny staff of five and rely more on volunteer labor, Scaravella said.
The soup kitchen typically serves 150 meals a day, six days a week. The people who eat there, called "guests," come from a range of backgrounds. A few are young families, some are elderly couples on fixed incomes, some are single men who live on the street and some are working but don't make enough money to keep their refrigerators stocked.
Attendance tends to rise at the end of the month, right before public assistance checks are mailed out.
Staff members don't ask for guests' names, immigration status or other personal information, and though the organization was founded by Catholics, there is no religious component to the services they offer.
"We don't ask them any questions," Scaravella said. "It's not of interest to us — we just want to feed them."
A variety of volunteers keep the soup kitchen humming. Autistic kids from P.S. K077 set the table, and there's a local man in his 70s who drops off unsold pastries from neighborhood coffee shops on his moped nearly every day.
Several local churches and synagogues send help, and the Park Slope Food Co-op donates bushels of produce, meat and bread. Co-op members can volunteer at the soup kitchen in lieu of doing work shifts at the Co-op.
On its second and third floors, CHIPS operates a residence for nine homeless women who are either pregnant or just gave birth. The women each get their own studio apartment and are allowed to stay one year.
One of the current residents is 21-year-old Tosha, who has a 7-week-old son Prince and 2-year-old daughter Paris. Tosha, who is studying criminal justice at Borough of Manhattan Community College, said the CHIPS residence is a "very good place" for young mothers.
"A lot young mothers here have nowhere to go, and this is very nice," Tosha said of her apartment, which has a full kitchen, a large crib for Prince and a rocking chair near the window.
Most of the young mothers leave the residence with either their GED, a job, or a place to stay, but Scaravella would like to do more for the women. She's hoping to add job readiness training, and she recently started nutrition and cooking classes to teach the moms healthy eating habits.
Scaravella envisions partnerships with a local Rotary Club, St. Francis College and CUNY, and recently teamed up with Park Slope Parents.
But without steady income, it will be tough to realize her vision.
CHIPS once took in about $30,000 a month in donations, enough to keep both the soup kitchen and women's residence afloat. Now it takes four or five months to raise that amount, Scaravella said.
The organization has suffered in part because many of its longtime donors are getting older, and their contributions have dropped off. Some supporters were contemporaries of Sister Mary Maloney, the former executive director who retired in April at age 79 after 26 years of building CHIPS from the ground up.
"Sister Mary went to the community and drummed up all of this support and [CHIPS] took on a life of its own," Scaravella said. "Now I need to do what she did, and go back out into the community. Until we can get more revenue streams going, we need the community to come back and support us."
Tax-deductible donations to CHIPS, a nonprofit, can be made directly through its website.