Fleeing traumatic and abusive events in her home town, Lilli came to New York from Europe one year ago. Having no connections in the city and no money, she soon ended up living on the streets in Greenwich Village. “I spoke English, but I was very afraid,” she said. “I didn’t know who I could trust.”
Finding food was difficult, and she admits she sometimes resorted to eating from the trash and panhandling to survive. “I would go to the park and wait until someone threw something away, then I would finish it,” she says. When someone stopped to give her money one day, they also gave her some valuable information about the city’s soup kitchens. Soon she made her first visit to Holy Apostles.
Lilli’s voice fills with emotion when she recalls first entering the soup kitchen one year ago. “I cried the first time I came here, when I heard the live music. It had been so long. I was overwhelmed.”
Soon she learned that the soup kitchen could offer much more than just a hot meal. “I found out I could use this address to get my mail,” she says. She met with our social services counselors who helped connect her with more resources, and she attended many of our classes and activities. “I went to the computer class. I watched films on Tuesdays. I relaxed. I slowly started to feel more comfortable.”
“I was treated with such respect and such kindness,” Lilli remembers with tears in her eyes. “I don’t know if you can really understand how that feels. It was shelter in the fullest and best sense of the word.”
Fortunately, Lilli eventually moved off the streets and into a nearby homeless shelter. A program connected to the shelter helped her find a job washing dishes, where she began to develop an interest in the culinary world, specifically in chocolate-making. With financial support from an employment preparation program she was able to take a chocolate class, using MetroCards from Holy Apostles for travel between the class and the shelter. She also relied on our computer lab to search for jobs online, develop her resume, and print copies for applications. Eventually her hard work paid off when she landed a part-time position training with a professional chocolatier.
“I went to her and explained my situation,” Lilli says. “You know what she said to me? She said, ‘People who are different aren’t a problem for us.’”
Lilli is currently enjoying her experience working and studying at the chocolate shop, and has ambitious plans for the future. She hopes to find another part-time job soon to have health insurance, and to save up enough money to move out of the shelter and into an apartment. She also has dreams of using her chocolate education to eventually open her own business, maybe a cart or a stand at the farmers’ market.
“When I think about all that I’ve lost, of course it’s very painful,” says Lilli, starting to tear up again, unable to speak of the tragedy and fear she left behind. “But you have to move forward.”
Thanks to the Holy Apostles community, she now has something to look forward to. “I love to come back here to let people know. It started here at Holy Apostles. It healed my spirit.”