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Queens Chronicle

A Maspeth woman’s mission to lend a hand

Crystal Wolfe’s nonprofit Catering for the Homeless is gaining steam

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Posted: Thursday, July 5, 2018 10:30 am

The party is over and the attendees have all gone home for the night.

The caterers have finished cleaning and dividing up the leftover food, but there is still an excess. Many times, the only option left is to throw it into the trash.

However, one Maspeth woman has been changing that over the last year.

When she moved to New York from Indiana a few years ago, Crystal Wolfe came with the dream of making it big.

She had with her a completed novel and a literary agent, an apartment and a newspaper job in White Plains all lined up. However, when she got here, the literary agent was fired and the job was given to someone else. Soon the apartment fell through as well.

“I had to decide, stay and fight or give up? I’ve been fighting for survival ever since,” Wolfe told the Chronicle. “I’ve had multiple jobs in a lot of different fields, as I have a lot of great skill sets but every job I have had here hasn’t paid much.”

To make ends meet, she found herself applying for as many different jobs as she could.

One of those was working in catering, where she was first exposed to how much food was being wasted. Being a woman of faith, she asked her manager if the leftover food from events could be given to the homeless.

The manager said no, as the reason he wouldn’t was fear of legal retribution.

“To be honest, I also believe it’s also a matter of them not wanting to take that little extra time to make a difference,” Wolfe said. “And I later discovered that Good Samaritan laws protect this type of food donations.”

So she went to work, offering the manager a solution to the problem.

“I said to the manager, ‘If churches and other nonprofits picked up your leftover food at the end of events, wouldn’t that solve the problem?’” she said. “He answered, ‘Yeah, I guess it would but who would be willing to do all the work to put something like that together?’ I’m willing and able and I’m doing the work.”

Her first task was to talk with Community Board 5 about the idea. After getting its support, she went on to call catering companies, churches, schools and other nonprofits to get on board.

She then launched her website, cateringforthehomeless.com, and officially got to work in January 2017.

Since the launch of the program, she has provided 6,000 toiletry items, 40 bags of clothes and approximately 12,000 meals to the homeless and food insecure across Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

“I have no staff members, I have no financial backing to pay them, I don’t even have volunteers,” she said. “I’m the only person dedicated enough to work for free and even work extra jobs to pay for my nonprofit expenses myself because I believe in what I’m doing.”

She added that she had been denied grants and discretionary funds from a handful of politicans whom she contacted for help. Despite being turned down, Wolfe is determined to apply again this year.

“I’ve been doing this work for a year and a half, doing all the work myself with a few modest donations from indiviuals totaling about $400,” she said. “I literally am working 14- to 17-hour days with multiple jobs to try to make ends meet,” she said.

Despite being the only Catering for the Homeless employee, she has partnered with catering companies, nonprofits like Coalition for the Homeless and churches — including St. Mary’s in Woodside — as well as event venues like the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan.

She has also published a book, “Our Invisible Neighbors,” in which she tells the stories of homeless people across the country — as well as a poetry collection, “The Resurrected Dream,” in which she deals with issues including domestic violence.

Wolfe is also penning a four-book fantasy series, with the first title slated to be released in November.

“I will continue to do the work I need to do to make Catering for the Homeless a national program, even if I have to do the work myself,” she said. “I won’t give up on helping the homeless or on achieving my dreams.”

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