A day doesn’t pass when I don’t have to repeatedly walk past our neighborhood Burger King because it is a major people hub and commerce anchor for the Journal Square PATH station.  Over the past few weekends, I’ve noticed curious behavior in the Burger King parking lot that includes open car trunks and loitering people.

The first suspicion you have when walking by and seeing people hanging out in a parking lot with open car trunks is that some sort of street exchange is happening.  People are trading or selling something stolen or illegal and they don’t want to get caught:  If the police show up, they start their cars and leave and everyone flees in a different direction.

I’ve noticed that parking lot behavior for several weekends in a row but couldn’t figure out what was really happening because so many people were just milling around talking and appearing to kill time.  You don’t want to stare at people on the street.  If your gaze lingers too long, you can create havoc in the wake of trying to figure out what’s going down around you.

Then, last weekend, I saw the throng had moved from the Burger King parking lot and into the main street bordering the restaurant.  The crowd was so large that they spilled out across the sidewalk and onto the grass in front of the restaurant.

I had to walk through the crowd to get to the other side, and when I passed, I saw everyone holding sandwiches.  Then I looked into the open trunks of the cars parked on the street and saw coolers full of sandwiches in plastic bags.  Those “loitering open trunks” were not nefarious or illegal at all.  The hungry were being fed by the kindness of volunteer strangers.  I didn’t use the word “homeless” to describe the people because that word can conjure up negative, stereotypical, tropes and I didn’t know if they all had homes or not.  The hungry were well-dressed, some had children with them, while others were regulars I knew from the neighborhood and I definitely knew they were not homeless.

I learned an important lesson:  Don’t judge behavior unless you fully understand what’s really happening.  I leapt to conclusions that the open car trunks were not up to good things — based only on previous perceptions that were not grounded in the current reality.

Since that Burger King epiphany, I’ve noticed other, similar, lines of people circling around parked cars with open trunks.  In fact, in a bank parking lot up the street, there were two vans with open trunks getting ready to feed about 75 people who were quietly lined up in front of two serving tables waiting to be fed hot soup, coffee, and a sandwich at no charge to them.

I don’t know who these volunteers are in Jersey City feeding the hungry from the street — but they’re quite outstanding and passionate and they are filling an immediate community need:  People must eat and no one should ever have to worry about finding their next meal.

9 Comments

  1. At Rutgers I used to volunteer to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the hungry. When you see displays of kindness like this it can really make you evaluate what you are doing to help and if there is more you could be doing.

  2. Precisely true. If, however, you didn’t know what was “going down” in the parking lot, it might give you pause for getting too near. I’m not sure if Burger King appreciates that kind of public demonstration in contrast with their for-fee feeding, and that’s why using the empty bank parking lot is all-around better for everyone involved.

      1. I think they’re going where the hungry are located — and the hungry and the homeless tend to hang out around Journal Square in this area. There’s a park on the other side of the plaza that has been pretty much overtaken by the homeless. I don’t know if the volunteers are with a church or not, but my sense is that they are a religious group doing the hard, necessary, work in the trenches. I never see the same people doing the feeding though, so there does seem to be a kind of synchronicity of service being provided.

        1. If that just doesn’t warm my heart. <3 Our first commandment, as citizens of Life, is to feed the hungry, take care of the widow. Thank you for this wonderful story, AND how 1st impressions can be VERY wrong. 🙂

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