NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Some of Manhattan’s wealthy will leave their luxury dwellings on Friday to dine shoulder to shoulder with the homeless in an event that seemed more like a social experiment when it was first held last year.

But Rev. Edward Sunderland said there’s momentum aiding the effort at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Midtown.

This year, The Four Seasons restaurant is joining The New York Palace and The Waldorf-Astoria hotels in serving a gourmet meal to provide some relief and conversation for more than 250 homeless people.

Sunderland said part of the goal of the event is aimed at helping the city’s more well-to-do residents take a different look at the homeless population — or look at it at all.

“Many times people who are uncomfortable with the homeless look right past them,” Sunderland said. “We want to help those people sit down with the people they’re afraid of.”

Last year’s event drew civic-minded individuals from an array of backgrounds, including law firm partners, investment professionals, executives, teachers, social workers, writers, musicians and retirees.

Sunderland said all of the homeless who are invited are those who participate in the church’s soup kitchen.

A host at each table last year helped manage the atmosphere as the event was serenaded by a piano and saxophone. Much of the same is planned for this year.

Heather Mitchell, an Upper East Side resident who is among the paying guests, said she will attend again this year. She said she understands that some people prefer to write a check rather than be with homeless people in a more direct way.

“But when you sit down and share a meal, you recognize there but for the grace of God go I,” Mitchell said. “We’re all just a series of bad decisions away from being in the same place.”

Mitchell said she met a homeless man last year that had been to Europe and hoped to find a job someday in the music industry. She described the man as “one of the most interesting guys I’ve met at a dinner party, bar none.”

“He had impeccable manners. He was more of a gentleman than many dinner mates I’ve had,” Mitchell said. “He was interesting. I was stunned, absolutely stunned.”

Though Mitchell said another man at her table was not as comfortable or communicative.

Sunderland said some focus groups he had conducted since the last dinner almost made him cry as homeless people described the positive effect the dinner had on them.

“‘It was a civilized environment where we were respected,”’ he said one told him.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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