People We Help

Guest Stories

Lester Gunn

“I turned 84 in November and I’ve done a lot in my life. I grew up in Harlem and went out on my own at 15. I played pro baseball in the Cleveland Indians farm system in the 1950s. I was a professional actor, singer and dancer for a decade, and then spent forty years working as a machinist. Everything came to me—and then it left.

I have breakfast at New York Common Pantry every weekday morning and dinner three nights a week. I’ve made a lot of friends here. They say, “don’t worry Pops, we’re looking out for you.” I get groceries from the Pantry, too. The staff is always very polite and congenial. Their hearts are big! People are looking for respect and you get that at the Pantry. It keeps me going.”


“I have lived in the area for 26 years with my 65 year-old mother. I have memories of the New York Common Pantry going back 20 years. Seeing others come here and now I am here. Now I am here. 

This place is worth gold. The people here do things to solve problems – especially for the homeless. They give the homeless food, haircuts, cooked foods and non-cooked foods. They do many good things here. Wow, I’m surprised.

I work in a bakery operating a machine that makes cookies, but I am sick right now and have been out of a job for a few weeks. I plan to return to work soon.  Now I come here. I come because I’m in need of it.”

Aranza, Sandra, and Abril

“The process is so fast here, and it is indoors unlike other places where you have to wait outside in the heat or cold.

The food is well distributed and I choose my own groceries. I select what my children are going to eat. I like the rice, cereal and especially the fruits. It is so quick here. It helps us a lot.”


“My mother used to say ‘sometimes you have the world in your hands, but at any moment, you can have the world on your shoulders.’ Riding the 2 Train. That’s the book I’m going to write. It is the story of my life as a homeless man in New York City. After my mother died and a business deal went bad, I was alone, depressed and riding the 2 train…all night long.

But I still had the strong work ethic my mother instilled and a determination to survive. I began getting free meals at Bravo Pizza. In return, I started helping close the store at night. Kenny, the owner, saw me on the security camera sweeping every day and offered me a job. I continued to ride the 2 Train and saved money for housing. I’d have breakfast at the Hot Meals program at New York Common Pantry. Through Project Dignity, I could shower and get my mail. The Help 365 case managers helped me secure benefits and my birth certificate, which I’d never had before.

Eventually I got an opportunity to use my Bachelor’s Degree in Horticulture to work as curator of the lawns at Bryant Park. I’m still friends with Kenny and everyone at Bravo Pizza and we both give back to the community. I want to encourage survival, hope, and success for others.”