Ex-Wall Street worker takes early retirement to volunteer in his community

Local News

A Brooklyn man is making a big impact in fighting food insecurity in his neighborhood during National Volunteer Month — and he’s just one of thousands of volunteers making a difference.

Thomas Chen spent his day on the Tompkins Houses basketball court in Bed-Stuy sorting onions, carrots, and cabbage. Chen is a volunteer for City Harvest. Watching him, he’s more like a social worker, listening, troubleshooting, and translating when needed.

PIX11 is partnering with City Harvest to help in their mission, too.

Chen has volunteered for over six months, twice a month at the City Harvest mobile market. He said being on the front lines of a hunger crisis has given him a new perspective.

He came from a humble beginning in Hong Kong, and moved to Brooklyn when he just 13. He worked on Wall Street as an IT professional for decades. Now retired, when the pandemic hit, Chen felt a yearning to do something more to help. 

“You know the competitiveness of Wall Street. You forget the human side of things. I took an early retirement. I didn’t want to just play the stock market. I want to make a difference,” he said. 

Chen’s passion was computers. Now he says his passion is compassion.

The mobile market manager, Tony Ortiz, said he’s a real people person. 

“He’s doing this out of the goodness of his heart,” he said. “He is very special,”

And for Chen — and so many others — doing good makes him feel good.

“Volunteer work gives you a high that’s soothing for your soul,” Chen said. 

He is one of 3,600 volunteers at City Harvest who provide over 17,000 total hours of volunteer service to help feed New York City families.

If you want to volunteer got to cityharvest.org

City Harvest, New York City’s first and largest food rescue organization, is challenging New Yorkers to donate the money they would normally spend on lunch to City Harvest’s annual Share Lunch Fight Hunger campaign, with the goal of helping feed the 521,000, or 1 in every 3, New York City children who are now projected to experience food insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This level of need represents a 64% increase over pre-pandemic numbers, according to an analysis from Feeding America. The campaign runs from April 20 to May 31.

To donate, text “lunch” to 20222 to donate $15 to the Share Lunch Fight Hunger campaign.

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