Over a Million Meals Served
Over a Million Served
That’s right: Over one million. That’s how many meals our staff at Covenant House in 31 cities across six countries served to young people facing homelessness last year.
It’s impossible to overstate how much a decent meal means to a young person without a home or stable living situation.
The teens and young adults who come through our doors are incredibly courageous and resilient. But when a kid is starving, it’s impossible for them to escape the pain and indignity of being on the streets. Every second, every step, their empty stomach reminds them they’re alone … ‘unworthy’ … that they live in a world where no one cares.
And that’s when these kids are most vulnerable to the pimps and traffickers who would buy and sell them.
In a study of Covenant House youth conducted by the Modern Slavery Research Project at Loyola University New Orleans. 19 percent of the young people interviewed reported having traded sex for food and shelter while living on the streets.
That’s why Covenant House street outreach teams provided over 15,000 meals last year. Every night we visit areas where young people tend to congregate and where pimps and traffickers wait to use and abuse them. We talk with the youth, ask them how they’re doing. “Do you need help?” “Would you like some food?” “Do you want to come to Covenant House?”
Brian is a Covenant House alumnus. Here’s what that first sandwich meant to him:
“Years back, I was a homeless teenager eating out of dumpsters on the streets when the shiny blue Covenant House van pulled up and offered me a free bag lunch. I will never forget how hungry I was, and how good that food tasted. Looking back, I think I can say your outreach workers saved my life that night,” he says.
“I’m married now, with a boy of my own. The other day I was fixing him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I thought of Covenant House. I thought about that sandwich you offered me with no strings attached, and all the help I got at the shelter. Then I looked at my little boy and thought about all the things in life I would have missed if I never got off the streets.
Every time I make my son a sandwich, I will think of Covenant House and say a little prayer of thanks to God. I just wanted you to know that,” he concludes.
Sustenance and Healing
Once a young person is off the streets and at Covenant House, he or she is served three nutritious meals a day along with an evening snack. If a youth walks through our doors in the dead of night and needs food, we always have a meal waiting – our intake staff has been known to let themselves into the kitchen to fix a meal at all hours of the night.
“When I was homeless, my mom and I would scrape together whatever money we could to eat,” says Matthew, a current Covenant House resident. “One time we had to eat popcorn and eggs for a whole week. Coming to Covenant House, I was just so happy to have food three times a day.”
“The brunch they serve on the weekends is real nice,” adds Warren, another current resident. “I didn’t expect to see brunch at a homeless shelter.”
As with all families, food also has a way of bringing our Covenant House family together. At Covenant House Illinois a few weeks back, Lathan prepared a vegetarian meal for his fellow residents that was so popular it inspired other youth to prepare their own recipes. The team meal is now a weekly event.
Many of our young people across our Covenant House programs ask to volunteer in our kitchens and cafeterias. Whether they are cleaning or cooking or putting up decorations for special occasions, our young people acquire a sense of ownership and pride in where they’re currently living, as well as necessary life skills that will help them in their journey forward.
Food & Nutrition Programs
The staff in our kitchens and cafeterias often become friends and mentors to our young people. “When I see the smile on the kids’ faces after they eat my meals, it makes my day,” says Reggie, our chef at Covenant House Fort Lauderdale. “I feel like I’m working for a purpose.”
“I came from a fine-dining culinary background, but my heart wasn’t in it,” says Garrett, our chef at Covenant House Orlando. “I wanted to be able to make a difference and give back to the community using my skills and passion for cooking. I found a home here, where I get to improve the lives of our youth by providing them home-cooked meals and encouragement during meal times.”
Young people coming off the streets often arrive at our doors malnourished and suffering from related medical issues. At Covenant House New York, we now have the services of a registered dietician to do a variety of food programming, as well as diabetes assessments and counseling in our health clinic.
In New Orleans and Detroit, our staff not only serve healthy food in the cafeteria, but they also work with volunteers to prepare bagged on-the-go lunches for our young people heading out to work. Bagged meals are also prepared in our kitchens for distribution by our street outreach teams.
And at Covenant House Alaska, our new culinary training academy will provide youth who are overcoming homelessness with in-demand cooking and kitchen skills and, ultimately, evolve into a social enterprise that feeds the mission.
The academy includes hands-on training in an on-site commercial kitchen; field trips to restaurant-supply centers, local gardens, and food shopping centers; and classroom instruction.
At Covenant House, we provide food and nutrition services that all young people need and deserve. And we take tremendous pride in watching our amazing, resilient, hard-working youth head out each day feeling fueled and focused so they can follow their dreams.