Immigrants And Refugees

Holy Thursday And The Blessing Of Second Farms Affordable Housing

Cardinal Dolan blesses the aparmetns of Second Farms. // Johnny Zhang

April 1st was Holy Thursday; a day Christians celebrate in the lead up to Easter. In the West Farms neighborhood in the Bronx this Holy Thursday was celebrated with families, Catholic Charities, and Cardinal Dolan and others at a food distribution event that included a blessing by the Cardinal of the Second Farms Apartments.

The joyous event featured many others who made this project possible: Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the head of Catholic Homes – James McSpirit, Borough President Ruben Diaz, Councilman Rafael Salamanca and Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Director of CCNY.

Beatriz Taveras,director of Catholic Charities Community Services, opened the ceremony saying, “Since the 1970s, Catholic Charities has developed over 3000 units of low-income and affordable housing throughout the five boroughs.” Through Catholic Homes, CCNY has developed housing that includes the Saint Vincent De Paul senior housing, Saint Augustine family supportive housing, Haven Plaza, and George Hardy family housing, Our Lady of Mercy Manor senior housing, and several more. “Yes, there were obstacles,” said Monsignor Sullivan on CCNY’s commitment to the project, “but this building was completed when New York was shut down. We don’t shut down. Catholic Charities doesn’t have the option of shutting down.”

The Second Farms apartment complex was constructed by an agency of Catholic Charities of New York (CCNY) called Catholic Homes which is a developer of safe, affordable housing for families and seniors run by James McSpiritt. Diane Johnson, Director of Community Outreach told a WCBS reporter at the event, “We have a number of residents here who have transitioned from shelters to permanent housing.” Johnson was referencing 38 of the 319 units in Second Farms set aside for previously homeless families. “Catholic Homes,” added McSpiritt, “provides not just roofs over heads but support in difficult times as well.” In addition to affordable apartments, Second Farms provides case management services, day care services, and a soon-to-be-built Pioneer supermarket.

Residents of the Second Farms apartments were present as well, including Nelly, a single mother of four who had bounced around from overcrowded NYCHA housing, to Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH), to the Bronx Parent Housing Network, and finally to Second Farms. Nelly told the gathering, “After struggling for six years to be stable in a home, I can finally say I have a wonderful home, beautiful inside and out. I have security for the safety of my family.” Brittany, another Second Farms resident who was there with her two-year-old daughter, Zuri, said, “I feel excited and appreciative. This is a once in a lifetime experience.” Cardinal Dolan, who toured the apartments added, “What so moved me when we visited some of these families, was their pride – it’s their own, it’s their house, they love it, they feel so secure and so proud – It has enhanced their human dignity, their esteem!”

Providing food and shelter is one of the core missions of Catholic Charities. With home and food security people can live better lives. During the Covid pandemic, making food available to the hungry became even harder. But that didn’t stop CCNY. Part of their success is, “They do things in partnership,” said the Cardinal to reporters. “They don’t do it by themselves. They rally great people in an alliance of love and service.” This sentiment was echoed by Bronx Borough president Rueben who said, “CCNY exemplifies something my father taught me at a very young age – you cannot be a good Christian unless you’re also a good citizen.” CCNY proved its commitment and civic-mindedness by successfully providing over eight million meals since the beginning of the pandemic.

Echoes of pandemic was undeniable. Even District 17 Councilman, Rafael Salamanca shared a very personal story; “One year ago today my dad was diagnosed with Covid while he was living at Saint Vincent de Paul Senior Housing. He passed on April 3rd, but I saw the quality of care that they gave my dad. It was a no-brainer that I had to stand with Catholic Charities and ensure we allocated the money needed.” It was clear the mission of CCNY means a great deal to a lot of people.

Catholic Charities Volunteers gave away food to West Farms families. // Jinnifer Douglass

Once the walk-through and blessing of the building was performed, the Cardinal and many of the honored guests then distributed food. Boxes of nutritious food and groceries were handed out to the residents of Second Farms, as well as local families from the West Farms neighborhood, and parishioners from the local St. Thomas Aquinas Church. Distributing nutritious food is perhaps what CCNY is best known for. These parcels ensured local residents would be able to enjoy an Easter meal with their families – an echo of the well-known supper Jesus had with his disciples on Holy Thursday.

Though it rained, it didn’t dampen the celebration. The people who made the housing development possible in the West Farms neighborhood of the Bronx, handed packages of nutritious food and groceries to the people who called that same place home. A humble service performed with love, honoring the principles of humility and service of Holy Thursday and celebrating the Easter season together.