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Volunteers Bring Meals to Urban Netherworld

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Salvation Army mobile canteen is a rambling old truck that cruises the destitute corridors of Newark by night, doling out hot meals. It is the closest thing to a thrill ride on the monthly calendar of Jersey Cares, which compiles volunteer projects for busy professionals.

Most nights, the truck is piloted by Chancey McMorris, a garrulous U.S. Army veteran and Rutgers University art student who works nights for the Salvation Army, which helped feed his family when he was a boy.

“I’ve seen carjackings, people get run over, drug dealing,” McMorris says as he settles behind the wheel. “Saw a woman strip down naked right in front of me. She was really out of it.”

Along for the ride is Anthony Earl, a former crack dealer and convict who is serving the last night of a community-service parole requirement. Earl’s job is to take a flashlight and pick his way through the crumbling corridors of abandoned buildings, rooting out people burrowed deep in the dark corners of urban neglect. “Salvation Army!” he shouts as he stumbles into the bewildering bowels of buildings littered with broken glass and collapsing ceilings. “You all want to eat?”

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“Yeah,” comes a raspy voice from one room, lit by some sort of open fire. “I’ll be right out.”

“That’s Kenny,” says Earl with a chortle. “‘Nobody wants to stay with him because he keeps burning places down.”

Rounding out this mission of mercy is a volunteer, Jeff Norman, a man who grew up in the suburbs, the product of liberal parents who instilled a sense of duty to the common good. By day, Norman is a public relations man for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. By night he is Volunteerman.

He ladles beef ravioli, sweet potatoes and green beans from huge stainless-steel pots onto throwaway plates, tops the meal off with a roll and slides the rather delectable wet mass across a counter built into the open side of the food truck.

People drift in from the streets, raggedy and vacant, and sign their names to a clipboard before taking away the best meal of their day.


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