Over the years, the traditional dinner has evolved into feeding those experiencing homelessness.
“They come in the door, they get welcomed, they get a name tag,” Rogers said. “And I get to play maitre d’. ‘How’s the food?’ ‘Is everything okay with you guys?’ And at the end, they come around with seconds of pies. I love to see people [say], ‘I can’t eat no more.'”
But this Bronx saint and native doesn’t leave people in need out in the cold for dinners that aren’t on holidays. Rogers also operates a food delivery program called “Hope Walks,” where he leads volunteers on trips to deliver food to his unsheltered neighbors. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he and his team extended the scheduled days from one day a week to three, handing out at least 30 meals each time.
“When the pandemic came, no one [was] out on the street, it [was] a ghost town,” Rogers explained. “But out on the street are all people who are homeless. They’re not homeless people. They’re people who are homeless. They fell into this condition. We don’t know why and how, but they’re people first.”
Rogers may be a saint, but he’s no Mr. Rogers. He’s also an activist.
In the 1980s, after Mayor Koch closed down the local firehouse on East 150th, Rogers convinced the newly elected Mayor Dinkins to bring it back. He even handcuffed himself to a firetruck in protest.
A man identified as “Matthew,” who lives in an encampment, told NY-1: “It’s hard out of here for the homeless to get food. And when someone with a big, kind heart comes by and does this, it really fills us up with joy.”
Rogers’ adult children, Joe and Maria, have been helping their father and the other volunteers with the annual Turkey Day dinner and other community efforts since they were kids.
“I was probably like, 5 years old, so I couldn’t spell very well, and I was a waiter so I would walk around to people’s tables and just draw what they ordered,” Joe Rogers tells Today. “I’d draw a little turkey … or create a symbol for cranberry sauce.”
Rogers tells Today he usually kicks off his dinners or the food giveaways with a scripture from the Bible.
“Matthew 25 is what Dr. [Martin Luther] King quoted. And Dr. King said, speaking of his own eulogy, ‘When I die, don’t tell them what school I went to. Don’t talk about the awards I received. But I hope you can say that Martin Luther King tried to feed the hungry, to visit the outcast.’ And that’s what we’re trying to do.”