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.