Channeling Coronavirus Concern into Charity, High Schoolers Prepare to Host Homeless Men Tonight

Centerpieces for the Dinner.

By Lisa Kava

Amid growing anxiety about the coronavirus, a group of high school students decided to redirect their energy from worry to helping the homeless.

The students, who have come together from two youth groups — one based on the Upper West Side, the other downtown — have been busy planning a pop-up shelter night for 20 homeless men. The event will take place on Saturday evening, March 7th, at The Ascension School located at 220 West 108th Street.

The teenagers plan to set tables, cook, and serve dinner and dessert to the homeless men as if they were in a restaurant. They have assembled bags of clothing to give to the men, consisting of socks, underwear, T-shirts and shoes. They have also put together “goody bags” which include flip flops, toiletry kits, hand sanitizer, wipes and shampoo.

Robin Klueber (left) and Jeannie Gaffigan (right) at a recent pop-up dinner.

Robin Klueber, the Director of Religious Education at The Ascension Church, where the school is located, and Jeannie Gaffigan, Founder and Executive Director of The Imagine Society (a not-for-profit organization which unites youth groups and community service projects), developed and collaborated on the idea together. The two women have been working in partnership with the students.

”The homeless men will arrive from two different shelter organizations, CAMBA and the Antonio Olivieri Drop-in Center,” Gaffigan explained. The evening will be known as “The Image-Inn” since the men will be sleeping overnight. The students will set up cots for the men.

Gaffigan told West Side Rag that the students will divide into different roles for the evening. Some will set the tables “with beautiful centerpieces” others will cook in the kitchen and others will serve the food. At the end of the evening the students and the homeless men will all come together for coffee and dessert. “The teens will introduce themselves, chat, play card games and be interactive with the men” said Gaffigan. “The teens will be teaching compassion and love. The idea is that goodness spreads more than the virus does.”

The homeless men will be screened medically prior to participation in order to ensure the safety of the students according to Klueber. “They are also ‘wanded’ before they get on the bus to us to be sure they aren’t carrying anything dangerous.”

Lily, center.

The students have been hard at work preparing and are excited for the event. “I am personally most excited about getting to meet these men in need of help,” said Lily Vaysman, 16, a junior at Stuyvesant High School and one of the chefs. “We really want to connect with these men and make them feel less alone.” Lily, along with the other student chefs, plans to cook spaghetti bolognese and spinach quiche. She will also push around an ice cream cart for dessert.

“We have all been thinking about the coronavirus spreading but it is much scarier for the homeless than it is for us. These men may not have running water or a hot meal or a good sleep. It will be nice for us to take our minds off of it and help people in need at the same time,” said Lily.

“We have been very busy sorting clothing, buying food and figuring out what games to bring,” said Dayelin Delacruz, 16, a junior at Loyola School. “We can’t worry about the coronavirus when there are actual men sleeping outside with no food. I am excited to meet them and get to know them.”

Dayelin Delacruz.

The “Image- Inn” will be the second pop-up shelter night Gaffigan and Klueber have organized together. They organized a similar but less extensive evening in February according to Gaffigan who hopes to host a group of homeless women in the future.

“The teens are teaching us about compassion and love,” said Gaffigan. “Kids are powerful,” said Klueber. “They love to help, they love the chance to be valued, needed, appreciated.”

NEWS, SCHOOLS | 12 comments | permalink
    1. cma says:

      Wonderful to read about this. Especially Inspiring when some adults are freaking out over the C-Virus. These kids are our future/new leaders.

    2. Watto says:

      I am so impressed with young people of today in all aspects! They turned out to vote and stood in lines for hours on end on Super Tuesday! Now, they are showing amazing empathy for the homeless. Kudos to our youth of today!

    3. PvN says:

      Awesome! Very inspiring indeed, I would love to hear how the event went…

    4. Heidi says:

      This is SO inspiring. Bravo!

    5. Cathy says:

      This is remarkable and wonderful. Total admiration for all involved!

    6. Ann bluestein says:


    7. Ruth says:

      These amazing students should be an inspiration to us all. We live in a time of political mayhem and medical fear but there are people willing to step outside of their own comfort to come to the aid of their fellow person. You are to be honored and respected for your efforts.

    8. Tim says:

      “Teens will be teaching compassion and love…” to who?? “Figuring out what games to bring”. Spaghetti bolognese, spinach quiche, ice cream cart. The homeless being wanded before the event (what about the teens??). This seems well intentioned but it reeks of “let them eat cake”. Oh, hopefully the men had fun playing Connect Four or Monopoly. ??? 🤔

      • Birgit says:

        The organizer says the teens are teaching it to THEM (the adult organizers)! We can all learn a lot from young people. Give them some credit!

    9. Jane W says:

      And the gal who organized this is the comedian Jim Gaffigan’s wife, right?

    10. LL says:

      I also vote to invite one of the participants… Maybe a perspective from the teens as well as the guests… To share with us how the evening went. This story brought me so much joy.