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.
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.
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!
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.