A different kind of ‘Recycling’ program helps feed the homeless

By on April 15, 2004

Some people can walk down a busy city street and ignore the people living on the sidewalks with no roof over their heads. Others, however, see this tragic occurrence and are compelled to do everything they can in order to help.

Jacky Yu fits into that second group. About a year and a half ago, Yu was reading an article in The New Haven Register about the alarming number of homeless people in the area. The images from that article bothered her, and she could not sleep that night. The meek Korean-American housewife decided that something must be done to help those people live better lives.

“I think God touched me to look at [the homeless] as human beings, not animals,” Yu said.

She started out small, bringing whatever extra clothing she had to people she saw on the street. Yu encouraged others to join in the donations, and the clothing was stored in Westville Methodist Church on Harrison St. in New Haven. However, this was not enough for her, and Yu looked into helping various soup kitchens. She began going to Stop ‘N’ Shop supermarkets for food donations to shelters and found that they were actually quite willing to help.

When Yu learned that the local homeless shelters were shut down from April until November due to a shortage of funds, she wanted to find a way to fill in the gap.

“Somebody has to help,” Yu said, so she founded Agape House. Agape comes from the Greek word “love,” and that is precisely what Jacky Yu is bringing to the homeless of New Haven.

Agape House relies on volunteers who gather food and serve it to the homeless three times a week. Students from Yale University give their time weekly, often spending their own money on food to serve to the community. Last year, Yu reports that over $90,000 were raised through fundraising efforts with Yale students.

Yu makes trips every week to local merchants asking for donations towards her cause. On Tuesdays and Thursdays she travels to a Hamden Stop ‘N’ Shop to collect donations, and does the same every Sunday to their store in Amity.

Quinnipiac University’s own dining service plays an important role in the success of Agape House. Leean Spalding, associate director of Dining Services for Chartwells, became involved with Yu at the beginning of her efforts.

“Jacky came and spoke to my church,” Spalding said. She was moved by Yu’s message, as were the other members of the congregation at Cheshire United Methodist Church.

The parent company of Chartwells, Compass in the Community, has high standards for its campus food service subsidiaries.

“Chartwells has to do community service. That’s part of our program,” Spalding said. She decided the Agape House was the perfect choice.

In addition to weekly soup donations for the worship services, Chartwells contributes trays of pasta and other food every few months to Agape House under the direction of Spalding. Yu said that they received three or four big donations this past year, and that Spalding even contributed soda to her group on occasion. Yu makes all of the food pick-ups by herself, including her supermarket runs.

“It’s a dangerous job sometimes,” Yu said. “But I’ve got so much energy to do this.”

Contests are held yearly by Compass in the Community to judge the amount of service by its subsidiaries, and this year Chartwells at Quinnipiac received a $500 prize in the regional competition for their community service efforts. Chartwells also hired Yu to cook in January, February and March of this year, so she set up a cooking station for Oriental food. She used the money from these three appearances for Agape House.

Often, the aid given by Agape House goes beyond simple food services.

“I feel that I can help by giving out the gospel message,” Yu said.

To do this, Yu leads worship services every Sunday followed by soup for the hungry. She also leads them in song, and their makeshift choir has even gone to churches in the New Haven area to perform.

In addition to the meals the House serves, Yu prides herself on the job training that she provides. Agape House serves about 250 to 300 homeless people per year and many of them have serious drug or alcohol addictions. Yu guides them to recovery programs that are paid for by the government and she meets regularly with her clients to ensure that they are staying on the right path.

“My goal is to have 10 people get a job, and to have no more homeless,” Yu said.

She always carries resumes in case she encounters potential employers for House members and coaches them for job interviews.

Yu’s family shares in her passion for people. Her two sons join her whenever they can to help her in her endeavors. Sam, 21, attends Lehigh University while David, 19, goes to The University of Maryland. Both men play music for their mother’s services when they are available and help her in any way they can.

Yu feels that the most important part of her work is simply listening to the pain of the people who come to her and giving them loving guidance.

“I am 51 years old. The homeless people are 40 to 45 years old, but they call me mommy,” Yu said.

The joy she receives from helping the less fortunate is enough to keep Jacky Yu selflessly and wholeheartedly serving the New Haven community.

She thanks Quinnipiac University and Chartwell’s for being a part of her efforts, and hopes that students will join her mission.

(Editor’s Note: Sometimes, Quinnipiac University’s “leftovers” become offerings at a New Haven soup kitchen. It’s a humanitarian form of “recycling” and for some homeless people, it is a sign that they are not forgotten.)


About Nancy Hall