Feeding one small part of the Bronx

I have a confession to make: I live in the Bronx, but my church home is in Manhattan.

When I first moved to New York, more than 20 years ago, I joined the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, United Methodist, at 86th and Broadway. I continue to commute to the Upper West Side for worship services.

The Rev. Denise Pickett commutes in the opposite direction. Because there is no parsonage for Woodycrest United Methodist Church, she lives in Harlem, on the east side of Manhattan, and travels to the Highbridge section of the Bronx, near Yankee Stadium.

This week, Woodycrest is marking 99 years as a congregation with a three-day revival and Sunday anniversary celebration. But the church has been working hard at reviving the neighborhood as well.

A month ago, to gather information for my story on Woodycrest, I visited the church’s Bread Basket Program. This outreach provides a hot lunch on Wednesdays, prepared in the small basement kitchen by Bertha Burke and Cathleen Ralph and served by other volunteers.

The menu that day was meatloaf with corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, a dinner roll, an apple and a Danish “because we like to give them a little something sweet,” Cathleen told me. They insisted that I eat as well. I did, and it was delicious.

About a hundred people come each week to take advantage of the free meal. They seemed to enjoy the food, but, more importantly, they seemed to enjoy the company – both of their fellow diners and the church members who treat them with respect and kindness. Like a neighbor.

It’s clear that Denise Pickett is a key part of the relationship between the church and the neighborhood. Olive Venzen, who came to eat lunch, remembered how the pastor helped see her through breast cancer surgery. Ardythe Bryan, who was arranging food on serving trays, joined Woodycrest church because she felt so welcomed by Pickett. Despite being in chronic pain, she believes her volunteer work at the Bread Basket “is a sacrifice I have to do. It’s God’s work.”

The Bronx is a huge place. But this church is making an impact in one small part of the borough.


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