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Outreach Newsletter: Fall 2022

Posted by Hannah Sohn on September 08, 2022

In Our Fields: Art & Acceptance at St. Luke's

Blaine Metzger, who is on staff at Art & Acceptance (3rd from the left) is with volunteers who are tabling from Housing Works. Housing Works, one of our community partners, is a New York City-based non-profit fighting AIDS and homelessness. 

For the last 20 years, Art & Acceptance (A+A) at St. Luke’s has been our nonsectarian, weekly evening drop-in program for LGBTQ+ young adults, aged 18-29 years old, often experiencing housing and food insecurity. It takes place on the Block every Saturday from 4-7pm (entrance at 653 Greenwich St.) Because many of our guests travel from all corners of the city, we recently added an hour to make it more worthwhile for our guests who have longer commutes.

Our mission has always been to offer a hospitable, safe space operating through a harm-reduction lens. The program includes dinner and a second meal to-go, a place for artistic expression, writing and dance, a free clothing and toiletries pop- up shop, health and legal services provided by visiting partner organizations, a lending library and crisis support. But most importantly, we provide a reliable, safe space where our guests can catch up with friends and simply hang out for a few hours on a Saturday evening.

A + A relies on a small, committed corps of part-time staff and volunteers, supervised closely by our Outreach Manager Jill Twohig who holds a license in mental health counseling and draws on her social work experience with the LGBTQ+ community. During my visits, I’ve noticed that our guests trust Jill, seek out her advice and feel comfortable sharing the details of their lives with her. Assisting Jill is Blaine Metzger, who works at NYC non-profit Housing Works during the week. Blaine welcomes newcomers, engaging guests in writing and art exercises but mostly, he interacts, joining in conversation, joking around, or playing a game of UNO.

Staff and volunteers help serve food, run the “shop”, participate in games, direct the art experiences and are present for the youth we serve in a safe, healthy and boundaried way. Most of all, they know how to listen without judgement.

What does an evening at Art & Acceptance look like?

I recently paid a visit to A+A on a Saturday evening in August. When I arrived 4.30pm, there were about 20 people in the cafeteria of St. Luke’s School and a handful of people in Laughlin Hall where guests picked clothing and personal care items. Some guests stopped by briefly to grab a meal and a subway card, while others came early and stayed until the very end to socialize and take advantage of the clothing and toiletries shop.

Several guests dropped by just to chat with Jill. One guest told her about binge-watching The Sandman on Netflix.  Another guest asked to speak with Jill privately, so I took over the check-in desk where I got into a conversation with one of our regulars.

Apparently, I was visiting on an especially lively evening. Music was playing and a couple of guests showed off their dance moves. Guests and volunteers swayed to the rhythm. The atmosphere was upbeat and convivial. A young woman stood up to hug a friend, who she hadn’t seen in a while and they sat back down to have their meal together and catch up. I learned she had walked over from the East Village and he had taken the subway down from Harlem. At another table, a young woman sat and ate by herself while talking animatedly on the phone. Some guests kept to themselves; others darted from table to table to socialize.

As I looked around, I noticed many of the guests knew each other and I realized that what we have here is a Community.

Later, another guest asked if I could give his nails a topcoat of clear polish. It turned out we were both big fans of Spanish flamenco/hip-hop singer Rosalia and Puerto Rican Latin Trap and Reggaeton artist (and activist) Bad Bunny. He showed me YouTube videos of another Latin artist (and Rosalia’s current boyfriend) Rauw Alejandro and then introduced me to a YouTube personality who applies make-up while reciting true-crime stories.

Another guest was able to score a pair of thigh high heeled boots. She struggled for quite a while to get the zipper up but eventually persevered. And they looked great! She also found a gently used beach towel with colorful, geometric shapes, a brand-new Oral-B electric toothbrush (“I’ve always wanted one of these!”) and a nicely packaged skin care product.

St. Luke’s had received two large donations of various personal care items from Brooklyn-based Camp Friendship Food Pantry. Thanks to the generosity of twelveNYC, Camp Friendship had been the recipient of 10-15 five feet high pallets but lacked the room to store it all. So they called on various community organizations including St. Luke’s to meet the delivery and take as much as we could carry back. On my way to work, I grabbed an SUVs worth of personal care items. The frowning uber driver helped me load up the car, and I ferried about 10 large boxes back to St. Luke’s.

A+A is sustained by crucial grant funding and donations from St. Luke’s community.

Patrick Bergquist and Oluwatobi “Tobi” Mojeed-Balogun of Episcopal Charities of New York have provided community and proactive guidance in addition to crucial, ongoing financial support. Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS has been a long-time supporter of A+A from the very beginning. In addition to grant funding, Reverend Eva Suarez at St. James’ Church has provided warm encouragement. We’ve had a steady stream of donated, gently used clothing, brand new socks, underwear, first-aid and personal care items (Hanes, Bombas, I Support the Girls and Knit the Rainbow).

We’ve also received wonderful support from the St. Luke’s Community.

We would like to thank St. Luke’s parishioners for their financial contributions, deliveries of personal care items from our Amazon wish list and for volunteering their time.

The Humble Ox, the community service offshoot of St. Luke’s School’s Parents Association, has been bringing us homemade desserts, which has added some homemade TLC to our COVID-era pre-packaged meals and this past Spring, they held a successful drive among St. Luke’s School families to supply us with items from our wish list. Last Fall, they also held a sock drive, prepared hundreds of hygiene kits and organized a Spring underwear drive--all of which are items in high demand.

We have a monthly presence at A+A from Housing Works and COMPASS, in addition to volunteer attorneys from LeGal, the LGBT bar association. We have also partnered with Help NYC who have listed A+A in their resource guide.

A+A and the Pandemic

Prior to the pandemic, an average of 30 guests joined us each week. During the lockdown, we felt it was important to maintain our presence, as many of our guests have experienced abandonment and unreliable services. In April 2020, Jill and a few volunteers would distribute brown bag meals, Metro cards and personal care kits to go for any guests who stopped by. Many wanted to stay and chat. As lockdown restrictions eased, in October of 2020, we re-opened the program outdoors on the playground of St Luke's School and saw the return of many of our regular guests and volunteers. As Winter approached, we moved into Laughlin Hall with limited capacity, providing a space for safe community engagement and distributing meals and essential items. In the Fall of 2021, we finally returned to our original space in the dining room of St Luke's School. We’ve been slowly rebuilding our community with increased numbers of guests. Recently, we were thrilled to greet some old friends who we hadn’t seen since before the pandemic.

St. Luke’s “Living Memorial”

Art & Acceptance is what St. Luke’s archivist Lani Steinberg calls our “living memorial” to our historical commitment to the LGBTQ+ community. In the 1980s, St. Luke’s was known for offering solidarity and support to people living with HIV and AIDS; welcoming, serving, fundraising and holding funerals for this devastated community. We draw on this heritage as we chart our path forward. Reverend Caroline Stacey, Reverend Bo Reynolds and Reverend Andrew Ancona are committed to nurturing St. Luke’s “living memorial” and keeping A+A’s mission alive.

Hannah Sohn
Development Manager
The Church of St. Luke in the Fields

A Glimpse of A+A in Action

  • We were recently featured on NY1
  • There is a full-length, award-winning feature film, 'Saturday Church', based on Art & Acceptance. 

How to Help: Support Art & Acceptance at St. Luke’s

If you’re able, please consider donating much needed items to Art & Acceptance using our Amazon wish list

We're also in great need of gently used men's clothing and non-perishable pantry and personal care items (rice, pasta, canned soups/chili, peanut butter, tuna, ramen, beans, toothpaste, soap, etc.) If you have a lead on a resource or would like to drop off desserts enough for 30 guests, please email Hannah Sohn.

Want to volunteer on Saturday? Sign up online. Please also email Jill Twohig if it’s your first time.

Donations can always be dropped off at the Parish Office at St. Luke’s,487 Hudson St. Mon-Fri 9-5pm, or mailed directly to St. Luke’s, ATTN: Outreach.

Thank you!

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