Building a Place You Can Rest Inside Of

Posted by Caroline Griggs on

In November 2021, I moved to NYC to begin working with a nonprofit, Free Food Harlem. Free Food Harlem creates an environment of dignity and love for those without homes. They serve in  a restaurant where people can come and dine and eat delicious meals. 500 people are served every week on a Saturday evening. A community has been built where people have come to know each other, sit and dine, and exchange stories of the week. 

But, Free Food Harlem did not start this way, Free Food Harlem started with one woman handing out 2 sandwiches she made in her kitchen every week. By the time, I decided to come to New York to help with Free Food Harlem, they were serving about 40 sandwiches every week. Making the sandwiches from donated ingredients, putting them together, and handing them out on the streets. 

I remember one day, talking to the woman who runs Free Food Harlem and hearing her vision. One day, we will serve in a restaurant where everyone will sit and dine with us, they will feel the love in our food and the love in our space. Volunteers will come and wear aprons, we will serve them on plates and using silverware. We will serve 500. 

To be honest, I thought this woman was wildly ambitious, we will serve 500? We are only serving 40 now!! How will any of this be possible? The idea of a large vision like this felt daunting to me. It was a beautiful vision, but how would any of that be possible?

The truth is, the vision was NOT built overnight, though every part of me felt inspired to help create this vision with Free Food Harlem, immediately, and I think it was the urgency and inspiration that had me feel that it had to be created tomorrow, which in turn resulted in a daunting, overwhelming feeling. 

What I learned from working with Free Food Harlem is that each piece of a vision can be built step - by - step. When it turned too cold to serve food on the streets, we searched for a local church that would allow us to serve in their space. So 50 people came and ate in the church. When we needed more food to serve, we reached out to get donations and partnered with local companies. When we had extra food, we donated it local shelters, building relationships where people could learn about the program and come visit us. And we partnered with a company to make flyers. Each barrier and challenge brought an opportunity to expand, to try something different, and to move closer to the vision. And slowly, meeting each moment with acceptance and willingness, step by step, Free Food Harlem became what is today. 

Watching and supporting Free Food Harlem, taught me the beauty of building a vision step by step. I remember when I moved into my first home, I immediately went out and bought everything, everything had to be created at once because heaven forbid anyone came over seeing my place halfway complete! But, what I ended up with was pieces I loved and some pieces I didn’t care for. The end result was a home built for others and not for myself. 

We can take the same approach when building our homes, going room by room, piece by piece. Slowly making our way through our spaces. It takes time to build a space based on the felt sense, the same way it took time to build Free Food Harlem, a place that offers love and dignity (a feeling) to those without homes. 

The felt sense path is not always the fastest path, but I have found it to be the most rewarding. When designing our homes, slowly, we can begin to learn what we love and what does not feel right. Learning to let go and make room for more. Learning to be with the discomfort of the in between. Allowing ourselves to feel the needs and wants of our being, and meet those needs and desires. Its an art to be in the process of building a place you can rest inside of. A place where you let go of what looks good (though, I find what feels good, looks amazing!) and switch to a design mindset of what feels good.

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