Woodstock. The Apollo 11 moon landing. The Stonewall riots. Among the flurry of milestone events that are getting the 50th-anniversary treatment this year, one is particularly close to the heart of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.
In 1969, Project FIND was born.
Project FIND is a nonprofit organization that provides low- and moderate-income and homeless seniors with the services and support they need to survive and thrive. The acronym stands for Friendless, Isolated, Needy, and Disabled—such was the dire picture of the elderly poor depicted in a 1967 study by the National Council on Aging. This report spurred community activists and advocates around the country to organize on behalf of the elderly.
Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church has been involved with Project FIND almost from the beginning. Our monthly ministry with the Project FIND Coffeehouse on West 42nd Street is our longest sustained volunteer program. Fifth Avenue member John Crane, a member of the board of directors of Project FIND, recalls how our relationship began.
“In the 1960s, low-income seniors living alone in the Times Square area had no recreational centers nearby, so they congregated in the waiting room of the Port Authority Bus Terminal,” John says. “Around 1971, Project FIND started a coffeehouse that got seniors out of the bus terminal and into a full-service senior center that provided a meal, recreational facilities and counseling assistance. That’s also when Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church first got involved. Initially, volunteers from the church opened up the Coffeehouse once a month on Sunday afternoons when the center would normally be closed.”
Today Fifth Avenue volunteers serve dinner at the Coffeehouse on the second Thursday of the month, helping over 100 seniors enjoy a delicious meal. Vijay Wijesundera leads the Fifth Avenue volunteer team.
“The best comment on our ministry at the Coffeehouse was made by an elderly lady who said that she counts the weeks until we come to serve dinner,” Vijay says. “She felt that we were a part of her family. She had observed that we the volunteers act like one family, and that she was drawn to the positive energy.”
During its first 50 years, Project FIND has grown into an organization that provides affordable housing to 600 seniors on Manhattan’s west side and serves 750 seniors daily at five senior locations. It also provides showers, clean clothes, and counseling for homeless seniors at its Woodstock residence in Times Square.
The Coffeehouse moved into its current location, on the lower level of Holy Cross Church (324 W. 42nd St.) in 2012. The Coffeehouse provides breakfast and lunch five days a week, dinner on Thursdays, and an expanding number of health and wellness activities.