The Clothing Closet at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine


Text and photos by Erin Golackson
(Follow her @egolackson)

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine stands in the middle of affluence and poverty—a position not uncommon in Morningside Heights, which now has the highest income disparity of any New York City neighborhood.

To pay its bills and stay afloat, the Cathedral leased its land to luxury housing development which brought hundreds of new affluent residents into the neighborhood and contributed to the 30% overall rise in neighborhood rental rates.

At the same time, the Cathedral Community Cares program tries to mitigate the growing income inequality by providing essential social services for New Yorkers in need, including a weekly soup kitchen, food pantry and clothing distribution center.

Twice a week, the line stretches out the door at the Cathedral’s Clothing Closet, where the homeless, the working poor and those in need of interview clothes, can pick up a clean suit, jacket and tie.

“You look like a million bucks!” a volunteer George Muckle tells a client, who made a full outfit—jacket, shirt, tie, pants and shoes. He has an interview coming up for a custodial position. “That’s what I do; I clean for a living,” he said.

Marva Kennedy, a volunteer, said she was surprised how many working people seek clothing assistance, and blames it on the high cost of living and rising rents.

Clients are allowed five items of clothing for each family member but people often want more. Clients can return one time every month, and most of them do.

Magnum Foundation produced an installation of Matt Black’s The Geography of Poverty on 110th Street as a part of The Value of Food: Sustaining a Green Planet, which is on view until April 3, 2016 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Inspired by the installation in the neighborhood where they go to school, Nina Berman’s students at the Columbia Journalism School looked locally at economic disparity in upper Manhattan.

Simone Salvo