I volunteer at a shelter for homeless people two nights per week, helping with the evening meal. I do pretty much the same things there I do with my Mormon priesthood on such occasions, i.e. set up tables and chairs and take them down again. The events I describe in this post took place last week on consecutive evenings.
Wednesday: I notice on the schedule that an LDS ward from the suburbs is scheduled to furnish the dinner tonight. Right on time, three women from the Relief Society arrive, and they are like the two or three dozen women in any ward who make things happen: efficient, capable, and hard-working. They have done this before, and they each know what to do to get the meal ready on time. They are serving chili dogs, so one sister sets a big pan of water on to boil to heat the hot dogs, another starts heating the chili, and I help the third woman fill disposable cups with water. The guests at the shelter start lining up for chow, and after a blessing, the production line starts. Two hot dogs in buns are arranged on each plate, then a ladle full of chili is poured over it all. The guest then moves down the line and helps himself to a baggie of chips, and individual size can of fruit cocktail, and a baggie of sandwich creme style cookies for dessert. They told me that they budget less than a dollar per meal, and I believe them. There are extra hot dogs left over, so they will go home to the freezer until next month, when it’s their turn again. They also told me that they turn in their receipts to the bishop and he reimburses them out of the fast offering fund, which seems like a good arrangement. The only complaint I hear from the guests is that there are no second helpings, and that seems quite petty to me, at first. But upon reflection, many of those people probably had not had lunch, and when you don’t have a refrigerator or pantry, the feeling of having one’s belly full probably takes on more importance.
All in all, our people did an adequate job of serving an acceptable meal. They did it efficiently, quickly, and frugally, and they were cleaned up and out the door, on their way back home before any of the guests were finished eating.
Thursday: The church providing tonight’s meal is Faith Pentecostal. They show up with twenty people, all wearing t-shirts bearing their slogan: “We serve with joy!” They serve meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans cooked with ham hocks and chunks of onion, cornbread, and tumblers of iced tea to drink. Dessert is a choice of chocolate cake or lemon cake, and there are seconds on everything but dessert. Rather than having the guests queue up, they have them find a seat at the table and wait to be served. The church people bring their plates to them (“Just like in a restaurant!”, I hear a guest say), and as they place the food in front of the guest, they say something like “Enjoy your meal, brother!” or “Bon Appetit, sir!” I also notice that they often touch the guests on the back, shoulder, or arm, and that is really saying something, given that most of the shelter’s clients have that distinctive funk which comes from having lived in the same clothing day and night for a week. When all the guests are served, the folks from Faith Pentecostal makes themselves plates and then go sit among the people they have just served, enjoying a common meal with them, and occasionally jumping up to get their neighbor another piece of meat loaf or corn bread. They also provided two enormous pans of baked spaghetti, to be served the next day for lunch.
They brought a guitar with them and when everyone is finished eating, they do some praise worship. Most of the songs are unfamiliar to me, but many of the guests appear to know them, and sing along.
What can take away my sins?
Nothing but the love of Jesus!
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the love of Jesus!
For the last song, they sing “This Little Light of Mine”, and by the final verse, most of the people in the dining hall are standing and singing.
I’m gonna shine my light both far and near,
I’m gonna shine my light and have no fear.
In every dark corner that I find
I’m gonna let my little light shine.