IMPACT

Homeless And Wealthy Guests Sit Side-By-Side At Holiday Gala Dinner

NEW YORK (AP) — Some well-off Manhattan residents paid $100 Friday for the honor of eating a candlelit holiday dinner with homeless people at a church, an intersection of two worlds that left one down-on-his luck man thinking the seemingly impossible might happen.

"What if a love connection happened tonight between the haves and the have-nots?" 44-year-old Craig James said before guests arrived. James, who has been homeless about four years since losing a job in security, also volunteers at St. Bartholomew's Church in Manhattan, where the dinner occurred.

The Rev. Edward Sunderland said he hopes the unusual mealtime gathering will become a nationwide trend.

About 500 people were served at large round tables with red tablecloths beneath the church's tall dome. Chefs from The New York Palace and The Waldorf-Astoria hotels provided roasted turkey, buttered mashed potatoes, red velvet cake, pumpkin cheesecake and other delights. The dinner was accompanied by the soft sounds of a piano and a saxophone.

Sunderland said the dinner provided donors a safe environment to meet those who benefit from their charitable instincts.

Guest Andrew Neyman said the event was a great equalizer: "It didn't feel like an event where there were a lot of homeless people."

Mori Goto agreed. "They're intelligent people," he said.

Sunderland said he was encouraged that only two of 167 people who bought dinners asked not to be seated with the more than 250 homeless people.

Among guests were law firm partners, investment professionals, teachers, social workers, writers, artists, musicians and retirees.

Not everybody was wealthy. He said one couple saved so they could afford tickets.

A host at each table managed relationships.

"Both groups tend to be a little high maintenance," Sunderland said. "Many wealthy people have mental illnesses. Many are addicted to substances, and it's probably at the same rate as homeless people. It manifests itself differently and it's treated differently."

David Garcelon, Waldorf-Astoria's director of culinary, said the hotel served about 1,800 people a day earlier on Thanksgiving.

"This will be a fun and easy day for us," he said.

Heather Mitchell, a paying guest, said she expected some would be made uncomfortable at a church known for welcoming everyone.

"But how many dinner parties do you go to with people of the same socio-economic status and you're bored to tears?" she asked. "It's good to mix it up."

Artie Stone, 58, another guest, said: "The idea of well-to-do and struggling people side-by-side is like having the lion and the lamb lay down together."

James, serving as a table host, said he hopes the dinner dispelled homeless stereotypes some people embrace after they encounter a "dirty guy on the train or someone sleeping in the park."

Another table host, Sports Illustrated writer Peter King, said one of five homeless people at his table described being on the street for 10 years.

King said the man, who said he sleeps in a sleeping bag in a park, was on his fourth piece of turkey when he paused in a moment that could not be scripted better in Hollywood and announced slowly with pride: "Tonight, I'm not homeless."

Sunderland called it the "story of the night."

"It just brought me to tears," he said. "Because for me, having all these people together is a great thing but having a homeless person with a sense that he's not homeless is what I do this for. It's priceless."

HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

  • 1 You stand in line for cupcakes at Magnolia.
    There are so many better cupcakes in New York. Just try <a href="http://www.billysbakerynyc.com/" target="_blank">Billy's</a>
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    There are so many better cupcakes in New York. Just try Billy's or Buttercup Bakeshop and then see what you think about waiting for Magnolia. There's just no need to wait in a line that wraps around the block for a dry cupcake with inferior frosting.
  • 2 You eat pizza from Lombardi's.
    It's not that Lombardi's pizza is bad, per se, but there are so many better places to get pizza in New York. You're just sell
    SimonDoggett/Flickr
    It's not that Lombardi's pizza is bad, per se, but there are so many better places to get pizza in New York. You're just selling yourself short by waiting for an hour for pizza from Lombardi's.
  • 3 You eat at the Olive Garden in Times Square.
    Don't do it. Just don't do it.
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    Don't do it. Just don't do it.
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    Unless you're forced to eat in or around Times Square because of your office location (for which we pity you), there's no goo
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    Unless you're forced to eat in or around Times Square because of your office location (for which we pity you), there's no good reason and no excuse for eating there. It's chaos -- get out as quickly as you can!
  • 5 You order Cosmopolitans to fit in.
    Just because the girls on "Sex in the City" drank them, doesn't mean real New Yorkers do.
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    Just because the girls on "Sex in the City" drank them, doesn't mean real New Yorkers do.
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    Little Italy may be one of the saddest places to eat in New York. We wish it wasn't so, but it is.
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    Little Italy may be one of the saddest places to eat in New York. We wish it wasn't so, but it is.
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    We'll admit frozen hot chocolates are pretty awesome, but Serendipity 3 is really just for tourists.
  • 8 You think 4 dumplings for $1 at Vanessa's is the best deal you're gonna find.
    New Yorkers eat at Prosperity.
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    New Yorkers eat at Prosperity.
  • 9 You walk over the Brooklyn Bridge just for Grimaldi's pizza.
    Over-hyped.
    AP
    Over-hyped.
  • 10 You think the Cronut™ is worth the hype.
    If you're willing to stand in line for two hours to wait for a Cronut™, we're not sure we should even let you in on this litt
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    If you're willing to stand in line for two hours to wait for a Cronut™, we're not sure we should even let you in on this little secret. But... croissants and doughnuts are perfect foods. Combining them doesn't make them any better. Also, Dominique Ansel's DKA is FAR superior.
  • 11 You visit the M&M store.
    No New Yorker has EVER gone inside the M&M store, unless he or she works there. We're sure it's fun, but we've never been, so
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    No New Yorker has EVER gone inside the M&M store, unless he or she works there. We're sure it's fun, but we've never been, so we have no idea!
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  • 13 In fact, you think going anywhere in Brooklyn is adventurous.
    Tourists need to spend way more time in Brooklyn and ALL the outer boroughs. That's where all the best food is!
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    Tourists need to spend way more time in Brooklyn and ALL the outer boroughs. That's where all the best food is!
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