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Manning the Bread Station on Christmas Day: Translating Words into Deeds

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Joan Brunwasser       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   5 comments

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It’s my brother’s fault, actually. Really. He told me about getting together with friends, making sandwiches, and distributing them at Union Station on Christmas. I wrote about it, my friend Barbara read my article, and said that we should do it, too. So, we made a plan. In the meantime, I looked into the  network of soup kitchens in Evanston and really wanted to be a part of that. So, a little before noon, Barbara, my daughter, Ariella, our friend Sharon, and I headed to Evanston’s First Methodist Church.  

It wasn’t so easy to volunteer our services. First, I had to verify that there was room for us.  I had to promise Ethelyn, the woman in charge, not to bring more than four others with me. She called a few days ago to report that there were so many volunteers, she was dividing the group into two shifts.  Could we please take the noon-1:45 time slot?  

The kitchen was already crowded and bustling with activity, when we arrived at noon.  There were entire families there, as well as random adults.  I found myself at the stove, sautéing onions and celery in butter for the stuffing.  At a neighboring counter, Renée was chopping and dicing.  A relatively new member of the church, she heard about First United from friends in her book club.  She and her family tried it out  and now, they’re regulars at the church. She came to the soup kitchen with her husband and her middle-schooler, Charlie.  Ordinarily, Renée and her family are out of town visiting family at Christmas time.  This year, they went for Thanksgiving, instead.  When they realized they would be home for Christmas, Renée realized that she would prefer to work the soup kitchen rather than have a big, festive meal. She wanted to “give back,” as she put it.

After my veggies were soft and savory, I wended my way to the social hall, looking for more to do.  The hall was bedecked with holiday decorations, the tables sporting red and green tablecloths. I found myself at the far end of the hall, where Michael runs the bread station.  He’s been doing this for the last several months.  Every Thursday, before he shows up at the church, he heads to Bennison’s, a local bakery, and then, on to Whole Foods.  Another congregant goes to Panera.  Between the three stores, there are plenty of breads and baked goods for the 100 or so guests who come each week.   The bread station was loaded with enticing goodies – cranberry walnut bread, dinner rolls, pumpkin pecan bread, sourdough, jalapeno cheese bread, baguettes, even spelt bread for the wheat-intolerant. For dessert, there was a yummy array of  donuts, Danishes, cinnamon rolls, cookies, and cake, as well as berry pie.
This year, because the holiday fell on Thursday, Michael went on his collecting rounds on Wednesday.  In the process, he collected three times the usual amount.  Because the stores were closed on Christmas, Michael explained, they had to unload their merchandise.  On regular Thursdays, the merchants are also generous, but less so, because any ‘leftovers’ can be sold the next day.

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Michael clearly knows the guests well.  Before the doors opened, he had set aside smashed croissants for one man whose teeth are poor.  He saved breadcrumbs for another, who likes to feed the squirrels and the birds. I got a kick out of that.

Working with us was Kundzai, who looked to be in her early twenties.  Born in Africa, she grew up in Evanston, attended this church.  For years, she volunteered regularly at the soup kitchen, but since juggling a full-time job, it’s been a challenge. She’s working on it.

One gentleman played the piano player.  After the guests were seated,  grace was said.  Later, there was a Christmas sing along.  It was a lovely, festive meal and I was sorry when my shift was up.  

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A homeless man once told Michael that if you have to be homeless, Evanston is a good place to be.  Michael concurs, pointing to the wide range of services including a shelter, warming stations, job referrals, counseling, and warm meals throughout the week. Michael once suggested that the man go to Chicago – only a mile away – for a meal not provided in Evanston. “Oh, no,” the man said, “that [Chicago] is something else entirely.”  Even so,  as good as the system is, it’s not perfect.  Michael mentions that they need more overnight capacity; room for another 30-40 beds would be great.  Otherwise, the network works pretty smoothly. As bad as things are, they're a lot worse elsewhere.

Michael really appreciated our help.  When he’s manning the bread station on his own, it ‘s hard to set out all of the baked goods before the guests start coming in through the door.  I promised to come again on New Year’s Day.

When we got home, Rafi told us about something he had just heard on the radio. In Los Angeles this Christmas, the lines at soup kitchens were out the door. When the staff  at one facility ran out of food, they sent out for one hundred more chickens. Even so, many people were eventually turned away.  This is a poignant illustration of the increased need these days.

The good news is that the dire need out there gives all of us an opportunity to step up and get involved.  It feels good;  in fact, it feels great.  Donate food, donate money, and, most important, donate your time.

No one can fix everything that’s wrong in the world.  But, fixating on all the problems shouldn’t be used as an excuse to do nothing.  There is absolutely no reason to think that we can’t make a difference.  There are so many options; just choose one and jump right in. What have you got to lose?

It took only two hours of my time.  But, I’m telling you, I feel great. Doing good is contagious. Now, I can’t wait for next week!

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I was ‘off-duty’ at First United Methodist and took no notes.  My apologies to any of the crew if I misspelled or mixed up your names.  Thank you for letting me be a part of your operation.


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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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