Maria Montero Silva, Editor-in-Chief
Kaitlyn Tambasco, Managing Editor
Two Utica College students began the giving season early this year. Senior Katie Ortiz and graduate student Leah Leshkevich traveled to New York City in November to help feed the homeless as part of the youth service program called “Elevate.”
The pair spent a weekend in the city alongside 14 other members of the Calvary Gospel Church in Utica. There, they met with dozens of other volunteers from churches nationwide.
“The experience was very eye-opening,” said Ortiz, a psychology child life major. “I got to speak with (the homeless) and have one-on-one conversations with them in ways that I had never done before.”
The service group had multiple outreaches, which involved two food truck events in the Bronx area and other services in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The next day, they served the Brighton Beach area with Thanksgiving meals, reaching and feeding 5,000 people. The last night was spent in the streets near Times Square and ministered to any homeless people they encountered.
Leshkevich said she chose to take time off and serve homeless people because of her own thankfulness for what God has already provided and given to her. She added that she has a heart and a desire to serve all people and show them the love of God.
During the trip, the youth group served food, blankets and personal care items. They encountered individuals facing tough situations. Some of them were grateful and others did not welcome the group’s prayers because they had lost faith as a result of becoming homeless, Ortiz said.
“I have always had everything so it’s very difficult to put myself in their shoes,” she explained. “But I try to relate to them in the best sense as possible. Serving them was a blessing for me.”
Leshkevich said she enjoyed everything about the trip but had something that stood out to her.
“Seeing people give their lives to Jesus and overcome with thankfulness and gratitude that there are people in this world who care for them, and a God that loves them,” Leshkevich said. “Of course it is always a challenge, especially if someone rejects what you give to them or responds rudely but it taught me to love those people even more.
One of the lessons Leshkevich took home from the trip is that many times, “the homeless are not even treated like people.”
“What usually happens is that people will give the homeless people blankets, food, whatever,” she said. “But they will never take the time to get to know who they are, their story and how much of a human being they are. People are people, not projects.”
When giving back to the community, Leshkevich said it all starts with being helpful and by helping others realize what they have and how they live.
“I know how powerful a personal testimony is, in comparison to just something you could read in a book, or see in a Facebook post; to have someone with skin and bones tell their experience and how it impacted them, is far more valuable and relatable.”
“We have everything, why not give some of our time and dedication to help others?” Ortiz said. “I’m just trying to love my neighbor despite the difficult circumstances that they are going through.”