As managing director of The INN (Interfaith Nutrition Network), Johnola Morales, 50, oversees daily operations that include serving meals to hundreds of people a day at 15 soup kitchens on Long Island. Since the food stamp program was reduced in November, Morales said, she's seeing about 15 percent more families coming for help with food. "This isn't a holiday spike," she said.
The INN has a no-questions-asked policy. "It gives the person or family the dignity to be able to walk in and not have to answer questions like 'Why can't you afford to feed your family?' that can be very belittling to an individual," said Morales, who began her career as a social worker in 1985 and came to The INN a year ago.
How do you keep your staff from burning out?
A good supervisor will support you, be a mentor for you and be a sounding board so you don't burn out. Laughter is definitely good for the soul. And the number one thing I always ask when I'm interviewing [job candidates] is: "What do you have that you love to do?" You always have to have something that will get you to be balanced quickly, because when you're listening to people's problems all day, you can't go home and hear more problems. You have to have fun.
About 80 percent. We do have grants; our shelters are run from the Department of Social Services. But our soup kitchens are donation-run.
How do you keep volunteers coming back?
Many of our volunteers actually have an opportunity to serve our guests, and any donation that is brought in (clothing or anything of that nature) is immediately given to our guests. So I believe it's fulfilling to anyone who's volunteering to see that immediate needs are being taken care of on the spot.
What's one of your more meaningful memories of this past year?
I was at the Mary Brennan INN, and a guest who's been coming to the soup kitchen for a number of years came over to me and let me know that because of The INN, she's no longer on drugs. She's currently in counseling. She's in supportive housing. She's well.
What would you like for the future?
A full facility that meets all the needs under one roof. If there's a teenager, there's somewhere for the teenager to go and have a support group about being homeless and how does that affect their self-esteem. How does a mother feel? How does a father feel? As well as job readiness programs, family counseling, parent training, everything under one roof [that's] needed to make sure the family is strengthened and able to move successfully out of homelessness and hunger without any emotional or mental stigmas.
Name: Johnola Morales, managing director of the INN (Interfaith Nutrition Network) in Hempstead
What it does: Serves the homeless and hungry of Long Island through 15 soup kitchens plus other supportive services including emergency and long-term housing
Employees: 55 full time; 28 part time
Budget: $5.5 million