Cliche title but the sentiment is 100% real. And it may not always be chicken soup but there is never a shortage of the key ingredient; love.
This frigid Monday morning I woke up in somewhat of a daze. My alarm was set for 6:15 am? AM? When was the last time I woke up that early? I stumbled around for a bit deciding if the rumbles in my stomach were from hunger or from loud bodily protests against being awake. I finally got dressed and headed towards my destination – St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen. Upon arrival, I see a large tattooed man repping the Steelers and ushering me inside; it’s Martin, one of the directors of the Soup Kitchen. He’s been with them for almost 10 years and is one of the most joyful people i’ve met. Not only does he regale you with positive energy but he has a great voice and sings along with many of the praise songs playing outside to greet those coming in for something to eat.
The schedule for the Soup Kitchen, which has been running every week, Monday-Saturday since 1870, is broken down into three parts. At 6:30, coffee is put out. At 7:30, coffee and pastries are handed out. At 9, a cup of soup, one PB&J, one meat sandwich, and a different treat are passed out. In between those times volunteers are participating in various efforts like cleaning, doling out soup, making sandwiches, organizing donations, and cutting potatoes.
Of course when Martin saw me he deemed me a good fit for the taters. I was tasked to dice them to put into soup for the next day. Although he was impressed with my skills I was joined by another volunteer, Alex, who is a junior at the University of Memphis. He has volunteered at St. Mary’s a few times and enjoys meeting everyone there. I quickly saw what he meant. After meeting Martin, I met a volunteer named Lynn. She is full of energy and has a ready smile. Lynn is a Monday/Thursday regular and is an east coast transplant like myself. Today there was also Brittany and Katie. Both lovely ladies that did a NUMBER on cleaning the kitchen. The health inspectors are due for a visit and even though the kitchen proudly boasted a 98 (better than many restaurants) from the last visit, these ladies made it their duty to make this kitchen shine.
Back to those potatoes; as Alex and I were chopping away, I heard some whistling and looked up to see Ron Bezon, kitchen manager at St. Mary’s. Now Ron has maybe one of the most heartbreaking yet uplifting stories I have come to hear. Not only is he willing to share that story with you but his positive outlook on life and ability to really see his work with a holistic view is amazing. And he’s got jokes! After 5 minutes of speaking with him I already decided that I would be coming back the next day so I could hear more about him and, hopefully, absorb some of his wisdom.
Post-potatoes, Alex and I were tasked at ladling soup in 16-oz cups. As we were doing so, Ron scooped himself some and deemed it “quality control.” I then asked him what happens if they don’t like it. He replied, “well, its a money back guarantee, if you don’t like your soup, you can come back tomorrow and get another free cup.” Brilliant, just brilliant.
After we had finished with our soup it was time to start handing out the goods. Now I had worked at the Community Soup Kitchen at my college and loved it. We had regulars that knew me and I knew the system. Here was something different but still filled with the same kind of love. Although I was nervous there really wasn’t anything to be nervous about (except after I dropped a cup of soup -_-).
Everything was gravy. The volunteer crew worked well together, filling in for people when they needed to move on to a new task. Every visitor is greeted with a smile and loud “Good Morning,” per St. Mary’s tradition, because it maybe the only good morning they hear. Although it was a little chilly, we still saw a good crew and I talked with a few people that were on their way to try and get a job today.
Not to sound too sentimental but my heart was just overflowing this morning. I have a new found appreciation for what a warm cup of coffee or what a smile can do for someone. It can literally turn a day around. The power of food can never be underestimated and, in my opinion, is the universal language. Everybody gets hungry and every body needs nourishment. At St. Mary’s they aren’t only providing nourishment of the body but of the mind as well. Every person is more than willing to chat about whatever crosses your mind, offer wishes of well being and is absolutely genuine in their sentiment.
I can’t wait to go back tomorrow – my alarm is already set. I think today was a great way to kick-off the Volunteer Odyssey Safari.
I’ll keep you posted !