Earlier this year, the kids and I visited Manhattan for some college tours. It was mid-January, bitter cold, but very little snow was on the ground. We like to stay in different parts of the city each time we go to get a better feel for Manhattan as a whole. This time we chose to stay on the lower east side, at a place called Sanctuary Retreats NYC.

The suite we had was lovely (and fully accessible), but I was even more impressed with a different aspect of the hotel, something I hadn’t even realized until we got there. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, staff from the hotel and any guests who are interested, make their way over to Tompkins Square Park to feed hungry people.

Photo courtesy of Food for Life at Tompkins Square Park

The Food for Life Project started with one man, Adi Purusha Das. When he saw the hungry people in Tompkins Square Park, he decided that instead of giving them money, he would cook for them. He prepared a vegetarian meal in his apartment and brought it down to grateful recipients. It didn’t take long for word to spread. Needless to say, the project has grown since that beginning in 2005.

“It’s super grassroots,” says Sanctuary Reservations Director Mario Cornejo. “He saw a need in the community and we’re helping him do something about it.”

Like mail carriers, these volunteers are out there rain or shine, wind or snow. People in the community know they can count on a freshly made vegan or vegetarian meal that tastes delicious and is made with love. That dedication has brought willing volunteers from around the world as well as in the local neighborhood. Not to mention positive write-ups in the New York Press.

Photo courtesy of Food for Life at Tompkins Square Park

I wrote more about the program on the PlanHero blog, and also highlighted a few other unexpected programs that encourage travelers to help make an impact on the communities they visit. Read about it and let me know what you think. Know of other ways to volunteer on vacation? Tell me in the comments — I want to know!

Pinterest link for Food for Life in Tompkins Square Park

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