So Much More Than Food

Former Deputy Director of Food and Nutrition Services Lilieth Finegan-Young at Covenant House

Many of the physical and mental health issues faced by young people experiencing homelessness are similar to those faced by adults without homes. But, children and youth are still developing physically, cognitively, psychologically, and emotionally, and the risks and trauma they experience at this stage can produce lifelong effects on their development and functionality. On the streets, youth without homes are compelled to prioritize daily survival over healthcare and proper nutrition; they eat whatever they can find, regardless of nutrition.

At Covenant House New York (CHNY), providing 24/7 access to three balanced meals and one snack per day is a priority to help our youth as they work to overcome homelessness. Former Deputy Director of Food and Nutrition Services Lilieth Finegan-Young worked at Covenant House New York for more than 28 years, until her recent retirement. She constantly improved the menus to maximize the nutrients we provide to our young people.

“At any given point during the day, youth have access to food,” says Lilieth. Even if the kitchen is not open and they come through our doors, we always have something for them. They can have fresh fruits, cereal, milk, and always a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Once they come through our doors, they always have something to eat,” she says.

For the hundreds of residents who eat at CHNY each day, Lilieth prepared meticulous and purpose-driven meals, following guidelines to prevent health issues such as obesity and chronic illness. “We use very little sugar; the milks are all fat-free, 1 percent and 2 percent,” Lilieth explains. “We cook mostly fresh fruits and vegetables with fresh seasonings. We don’t use garlic powder; we don’t use powdered onions. I cut all of that out of how we make and do our preparations.”

Young people at CHNY especially favor meals that involve chicken and rice, says Lilieth. “They love all of the meals we prepare! Very rarely do we hear the contrary. When we have vegetarian residents, we make vegetarian options. We also have a Chef’s Special. One day we had Caribbean Day where we made jerk chicken. I liked when we made jerk chicken because it goes over well with everyone. Jerk chicken, rice, and beans, which is a Caribbean meal, but they love it.”

Lilieth also loved to see our young residents improve and their enthusiasm grow at CHNY. The improvement in youth who come to CHNY is “extreme,” according to Lilieth. “They can’t wait to get to the cafeteria for another meal. They’re always asking when the next meal is! What time is lunch? What time is dinner? What time is breakfast the next morning. They’re looking forward to waking up.”

When asked what she liked best about serving youth experiencing homelessness, Lilieth said, “Just to see their faces when they get a meal that they enjoy and love.” She believes that teaching our young people to “catch a fish” will aid them in their journey to overcome homelessness.

Shelter Is Only the Beginning

From crisis to care: Find out what it's like when a young person enters our doors.