In a recent New York Times article, Isaias Garcia ’12 and Syracuse University student Patrick Alvarez were profiled for their volunteer efforts this Thanksgiving season, when they organized meals for the needy through Project Feed Me, a group started by Alvarez.
Garcia, who attended Fredrick Douglass Academy with Alvarez, was, as the article says, “one of the early recruits to Project Feed Me.” The article describes Garcia’s personal background, his struggles, his triumphs and the reasons behind his drive toward service.
According to the article: “I wouldn’t have been the person I am today if it wasn’t for my struggles,” said Garcia. “I’m obligated to give back because of the amount of help I’ve received my whole entire life.”
Read the entire article below, or click here.
The Neediest Cases: Some Help in a Transition and a Recovery From Eye Surgery (November 28, 2009)
Patrick Alvarez made sure the tables of children were eating their turkey while he directed a group of volunteers to the kitchen, nodded thanks to a mentor and shook hands with a well-wisher grateful for the meal.
The blizzard of activity might have overwhelmed most people, but Mr. Alvarez, 19, has spent his life overcoming long odds. He went from living in a homeless shelter with his mother to studying economics at Syracuse University, where he is a sophomore. Along the way, he said, he saw domestic abuse at home, mostly in the Bronx, cold nights on a shelter floor and fierce battles with Brooklyn rats.
But all of that seemed a lifetime ago on Tuesday night at the Frederick Douglass Center on the Upper West Side, as Mr. Alvarez watched some 200 people eat Thanksgiving dinners provided by a nonprofit group that he founded.
“I remember the hardest time for me and my mom was not having food, especially on the holidays,” Mr. Alvarez said. With that in mind, during his senior year at Frederick Douglass Academy, he started the group, called Project Feed Me, to distribute meals to the needy at Thanksgiving. Last year, the group organized its first Thanksgiving dinner in New York, and this year it held dinners in Syracuse and New York.
On Tuesday, one of the volunteers buzzing between the gymnasium and the kitchen was Isaias Garcia, a high school friend of Mr. Alvarez’s and one of the early recruits to Project Feed Me.
Mr. Garcia and Mr. Alvarez have more in common than a dedication to community service.
Mr. Garcia spent about eight months living in homeless shelters, and he said he and his mother also fled abuse. He had also gone from a shelter’s hard floor to a classroom in the mornings. Now a sophomore at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., he was all too familiar with insurmountable odds.
Mr. Garcia, 19, grew up in the Ralph J. Rangel Houses in Washington Heights, where he said both of his parents were in and out of the hospital with mental problems. During those times, his sister, Adenia, took care of him, but he said the instability and stress made school, and everything else, difficult. He and his mother entered a homeless shelter when he was 16 after his parents’ fighting had grown worse.
They moved to housing provided by the city in 2007, but the next year, his mother, Ana Cordero, died at 52. “The only thing my mom would have wanted me to do was graduate,” Mr. Garcia said. “School was a priority, because at the end of the day I knew that would be the only way out of my situation.”
In January, Mr. Garcia joined Children’s Aid Society‘s Hope Leadership Academy, where he quickly established himself as a leader and mentor to younger students. He was asked to give presentations to corporate sponsors, but after paying for college expenses, he had no money left for business attire.
With $200 he received from the Children’s Aid Society, one of the seven agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, he was able to buy a gray pinstriped suit, a tie and several dress shirts.
“I wouldn’t have been the person I am today if it wasn’t for my struggles,” said Mr. Garcia, who lives with a cousin in the Bronx when he is home from college. “I’m obligated to give back because of the amount of help I’ve received my whole entire life.”
Mr. Alvarez speaks of the same sense of responsibility. A natural leader with the poise of a politician, he is aiming toward a career in public service. According to his many fans, it will not likely be spent on the margins.
“He is inspiring, he is committed and he is energetic,” said Charles J. Ogletree Jr., a professor at Harvard Law School, who met Mr. Alvarez four years ago when the young man sought him out at a conference. Professor Ogletree said Mr. Alvarez reminded him of a young man he once knew at Harvard: Barack Obama.
“I see the same kind of promise, vision and commitment in Patrick,” Professor Ogletree said after stopping by the Project Feed Me dinner in Manhattan. “I’m putting away my campaign contributions for him until the moment he says he’s ready.”
Despite the lofty expectations, Mr. Alvarez still has everyday challenges to meet. Before he could begin fall classes at Syracuse this year, he had to pay the balance of the previous semester’s bill. With $914.92 he received from the Children’s Aid Society through the Neediest Cases Fund, he was able to settle his tuition bills and continue with school.
After he graduates from Syracuse, Mr. Alvarez plans to go to law school. He was an intern in Representative Charles B. Rangel‘s New York office this past summer, and he wants to go to Washington next summer to continue his political education.
“It gave me a buzz,” he said. “And I’m hungry for more.”