New York's grace, gratitude, grit on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving's emphasis on gratitude makes it an easy day to like. In fact, New York always seems kinder, gentler this time of year. Volunteers emerge with the muscle to feed tens of thousands. Once a year we can rest our ambitions and focus on our community.

From the experienced at the Bowery Mission downtown, which has been providing Thanksgiving meals for more than a century, to the new – the second year for Thanksgiving breakfast at William Cullen Bryant High School in Long Island City.

For decades, the Doe Fund has been on the front lines of lifting New Yorkers out of poverty. It held three events Thanksgiving Day.

We spoke with a few people who truly know something about having it rough in life. Nasreen was homeless and worse, hopeless—formerly one of the anonymous faces we might pass on the street. Given a chance with the Ready Willing and Able program, he is now the facilities director hosting hundreds of New Yorkers in a rut he knows well.

"All people deserve respect," he said. "Just because a person is homeless doesn't mean he doesn't have value."

Charles was an engineer, but also an alcoholic, which he says destroyed his career, his life. He has been sober 52 months and is in training at the Doe Fund. He knows where he'll be next time we meet: a master chef, he said.

Harlem native Truck, a nickname, was a drug dealer and is now an executive chef. Truck's journey took far more work than just an investment of a third Thursday of a month, once a year. He started at the Doe Fund pushing a mop. Now he teaches culinary arts. He said there are no quick fixes.

But at least the experts agree on the problem: income inequality. For instance, since the Doe Fund started in 1990, GDP has nearly tripled to $17 trillion, highest in the world. Yet the income gap has grown.

More people are in need now more than ever, according to Doe Fund founder George McDonald.

"I remember when Ronald Reagan was talking about the gap between the rich and poor," he said. "Those seem like the good old days because it has only gotten worse."

So while we have plenty to be thankful for this day, we have a problem on our hands that takes far more than this one day a year to fix.

People we talked to on this holiday had three lasting thoughts:

  1. Be informed.
  2. Do something even if it is just to vote on election day.
  3. Recognize the impact racism in this country has had on the economic climate today.