As soon as I saw the list of choices I knew I wanted to volunteer at a soup kitchen. My relationship with food being as strong as it is, it just seemed like the right choice. About 15-20 of us hopped on a bus about 3 PM after our orientation and made our way over to the Glide Memorial church. After figuring out who was going to do what, I was set up with an apron, some gloves and a hairnet. Duly equipped I was ready to bus tables, fill water pitchers and help out with any requests that came my way.
Once the line started it just didn't stop for 1 and one half hours. During the service time I saw such a wide variety of people in need. From people who had clearly been on the streets for a long time, to folks with pretty pronounced mental illness, to people who looked like they just needed a hot meal, in order to stretch whatever budget they might have.
My primary job was clearing trays and making space for the next person. The cafeteria could probably sit 80+ people, and there was rarely a moment where there wasn't someone waiting for a place to sit. Most people came in, cleared their tray and got out. Many people brought their own containers for food and water, scraped their trays in to it and went on their way. Some had a pretty elaborate system of scooping their food into slices of bread and wrapping them up for later.
There seemed to be a community interplay between some folks, some knew each other and were talking, in some cases there was just one person who was happy to scoop up the unwanted oranges or carrots that someone was not going to eat.
Which brings me to the one major shocker, the waste. The number of people who arrived, ate the one or two things on the tray they wanted, or some even just a few bites, and then left, was stunning. I can't come close to putting myself in their shoes but could not figure out why someone would come in for a meal and then leave it 90% untouched. I had one guy who pointed to the salad on his tray, admittedly it was pretty brown, and say "would you fed this to your family?" I didn't answer but I thought to myself, "Of course I would it if it would keep them from feeling hungry." I'm not really trying to make any kind of statement here, it was just so striking to me.
That was the exception, to be sure. The overwhelming majority were grateful for the food, and seemed genuinely pleased to have someone asking if them if they were done, or wiping up some spilled water, or just taking their tray to the back for them so they didn't have to. Anytime I had a package of baby carrots or an orange that went untouched I could ask people in my path if they wanted it, and it went into thankful hands. And that was really the exchange that stuck with me. A simple kindness like serving someone some food and offering up an extra was so well received that I couldn't help but feel like I wanted to do more.