ue I'm More Than Just a Mom...I Think: With choice comes dignityu

Sunday, August 01, 2004

With choice comes dignity

I learned a lot yesterday. David & I volunteered at the local soup kitchen in Baltimore, Our Daily Bread. We signed up for a 9am-1pm shift. Dave has volunteered before, but I'd never been. We took full advantage of Cassie's last day at home before camp to watch the boys for us.

I will admit that I was very nervous. I do not like the unknown. I like to know what places are going to look like, down to the color of the tile on the floor. I don't like to imagine and be disappointed because in my mind, things are always more grandeous than they end up being in real life. I did not know what to expect of this place - would it look like a restaurant? A mess hall? Would some people be rude? Would there be little babies - I didn't know if I could handle seeing little babies in need.

As per usual, I was worried for nothing. Our Daily Bread's dining area is a large, tiled room (Black & White checkered tiles, for those wondering), with 4 aisles of 4 large, round tables, each with 6 chairs. The tables are "grouped" in 4's with different colored placemats to identify each section. When we walked in, there were about 10 volunteers already seated and performing various tasks (folding napkins, cutting tissue paper for desserts, etc.). There was a quiet murmur as people chatted a little bit, but not much. There was a kind of seriousness in the air, yet everyone there was extremely friendly and welcoming.

I went to "orientation" while Dave continued the prep work, because I had never been before. Jennifer gave a short history of Our Daily Bread and how it came to be. She explained that all of the food is donated, mostly by churches and other organizations. Then she got to the "what to expect" portion of the introduction, along with a description of the jobs that we would be doing. First and foremost, the people coming for food are referred to as "guests" and nothing else. They are given the choice between a regular meal and a vegetarian meal. "With choice, comes dignity" she explains. And that makes sense. Who wouldn't want a choice - our toddlers and children live for choice. It makes them feel in control of the situation. The main aspect of the facility that really made me sit up and take notice was that it is run like a restaurant, not a mess hall. The guests come in, sit down, and give their ticket to the "server". They make their choice of veggie or regular meal and the server throws up his hands with fingers outstretched to indicate to his "runner" how many of each meal to bring to the table. Right hand is regular, left hand is veggie. The runner then brings the meals to the table and the server places the plates in front of the guests.

Many of the people who come to eat there are not homeless, which surprised me. They are low-income families, senior citizens, and other individuals who can't always make ends meet. Perhaps they just paid the bills and this is their only opportunity for a hot meal until next pay day. Some are wearing hard hats, some are dressed quite well and wouldn't fit into the typical "needy" picture that most of us have in our heads. No one WANTS to be there, but life is not always fair. Things do not work out the way that we want them to all the time. In other words, shit happens.

"Don't pick up the babies - they are cute, but if you drop them, we are in a lot of trouble" was the last of Jennifer's instructions to us newbies during the orientation. It was like she was speaking just to me cuz you know darn well, that's EXACTLY what I would want to do!

I was chosen to be a runner for the day and Dave chose to be a cleaner (after a guest was finished, Dave would wipe down the area with cleaner and place a new fork & napkin for the next guest). We got to work in the same section, which was nice. I worked with a great guy named Anthony, who was happy, friendly, and really chatted up the guests. He's obviously a seasoned veteran of the place. We made a good team and I'm proud to say had no mistakes in orders.

After the last of the guests ate and we closed down, there was clean up time and then we got to partake of the extra food. Good food too, I scarfed down quite a bit!

I left the building, holding hands with my husband, feeling very lucky to have what we have. We don't need to worry where the next meal is coming from. I left there feeling uplifted, rather than depressed as I thought I would. I thought it would be sad to see so many underpriviledged people coming in for food. It wasn't. It was inspiring to know that there are people who take time out of their lives to help these people. They cook casseroles, donate money to keep the facility going, donate their time like we did, any number of things. I had a feeling of accomplishment. No more sitting around saying "I wish I could help" because now I am helping. And it feels really good.

One day, I want to be a seasoned veteran there, just like Anthony.


Blogger Fluttering Whispers said...

I am SOO glad that you had such a great time voluntering, it really sounds like they run the place very well and really keep other peoples dignity in mind.

6:18 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

How incredibly rewarding to give something back to the world.

Look forward to reading about your continued work with the soup kitchen. Sounds like a worthwhile endeavor.

11:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Cathy, this was a neat post! I enjoyed reading about your experience here b/c I would feel some of the same anticipation-nervousness, etc. The fact that you left feeling uplifted is wonderful; I would have thought depressed as well. Good for you and Dave for helping others!

I am enjoying reading your blog and am glad you chose to share it with us ZF'ers :) ~TAD

1:05 PM  

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