Right smack in the center of the world’s epicenter of Queens there’s a little red truck doing good. Behind the wheel of the Hungry Monk Rescue Truck is a Boricua priest who received this truck as a gift by a man who once asked him what his dream was. When Mike Lopez, the 37-year-old holy man from Bushwick, Brooklyn, replied that he wanted to feed the hungry with the help of a food truck, that generous man had a retired ambulance personally sent to Lopez so he could do good in the world. Since 2017, Father Lopez and a team of volunteers have been on a Benedictine mission of delivering warm meals and providing shelter for the homeless. Today his biggest mission is to make sure that those in need are fed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Millions of New Yorkers are out of work and as food pantries are closing down due to health concerns, HMRT has only stepped up its efforts. Social distancing is a contradiction for those in this line of charity work where do-gooders are at the frontlines of health risks. In a city with close to 8 million people, and where one in five people are said to be testing positive for COVID antibodies, Lopez registers low in the typical New York hypochondria department. When I ask him if he’s worried about getting sick he answers: “What happens today happens today. This is a time to be courageous. As a community leader I can’t hide. If it comes for me, it comes for me.”
The Little Red Truck With the Big Heart
When you compare Hungry Monk Rescue Truck’s efforts to renowned Spanish chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen’s Relief Team’s in over 155 cities nationwide, feeding around 2 million people a week, a tiny, local New York City outfit like Lopez’s, with absolutely no funds other than those donated or fundraised, is nothing short of a daily miracle. Currently HMRT’s team is feeding about 2, 000 families a week. These are no longer just homeless people either, points out Lopez when we talked by phone; they are low-income workers, children, professionals, seniors, and local police, too.
The priest and his team of volunteers and staff from the nonprofit parish All Saints in Ridgewood have been working overtime since the pandemic began. His efforts are part of a larger fabric of dozens of localized mutual aid networks that have sprung up over the past months. Lopez’s extreme efforts also caught the attention of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who contacted HMRT to partner up. As they were already stretched economically, AOC’s team led a fundraising drive to benefit organizations like HMRT in New York City during the outbreak. AOC has already brought in tens of thousands of dollars to keep pantries like HMRT going.
On April 11 this appeared on her Twitter page:
“For the last few weeks we‘ve dedicated 100 percent of usual campaign fundraising to [New York’s 14th congressional district] food pantries and [organization]. Team AOC volunteers have been doing call shifts to identify the needy and deliver food. Big thanks to Hungry Monk Rescue for helping us coordinate food pantry delivery in LeFrak City yesterday!”
A Father with Foresight and Fight in Him
Father Lopez was long prepared before any of us believed this was for real. Foreseeing “the s*&t storm” as he puts it, Lopez immediately began ramping up his team of volunteers and stocking up on PPE and food supplies long before the government declared it an emergency. By March 10th he had already talked to local police and emergency personnel to organize efforts. Lopez has described the HMRT as a “community crisis task force,” with its food pantry on wheels and “guerrilla soup kitchens” set up wherever they can. They have provided fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, eggs, bread, cheeses, and prepared meals to thousands for free. They’ve provided home deliveries to seniors and those with symptoms or who are simply unable to leave their homes. At a time where people are drawing circles on sidewalks to measure six-foot distances, Lopez is as close to his city’s hungry as ever.