I was very anxious to begin my Volunteer Odyssey journey. I was especially nervous about working at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Soup Kitchen. I had never interacted with the homeless before, and I was not sure what to expect. I arrived at St. Mary’s bright and early on a clear sunny day, at 7:15. I am not a morning person and did not have time to make coffee so this felt extra early for me. Martin and Ron run the soup kitchen. They and the other volunteers greeted me warmly. Ron showed me around the kitchen and pantry and explained how everything runs, following their brief introduction; they put me to work preparing breakfast. We packaged pastries into individual sandwich bags to be passed out.
Breakfast began around 7:30, with ladies going first. Each person attending received a cup of coffee and a choice of two pastries. With each pastry the other volunteers and I said good morning, made eye contact, and gave them a warm smile. This is simple gesture of compassion that they may not receive every day. Oftentimes people avoid eye contact with homeless people. As a society we often grown up avoiding it either because we don’t know how to interact or we are afraid. The smiles I received in return made me realize how much this small gesture can mean.
After breakfast had been distributed we immediately began preparations to serve lunch. Volunteers begin making soup from scratch at 5:30 am. It can include all kinds of meat such as ground beef, chicken, or ham and vegetables, depending on what is available at the time. Today’s soup was vegetable beef soup with noodles. The smell reminded me of my favorite meal in elementary school. A sweet volunteer named Kathy and I worked together to ladle the soup into 16-ounce portions in Styrofoam cups. We ladled so much soup, probably about 120 portions. I am proud to say, I managed to only burn my fingers a couple of times.
The second serving began at 9 am and ran until 10 am. This meal included a bologna sandwich, a peanut butter sandwich, soup, and a treat. The treat on the day I volunteered was a donut, but it varies from day-to-day. I was in the “hot seat” for this serving; this means I was responsible for handing out the sandwiches, treat, and cup of soup. The sandwiches are wrapped up so that they may take them with them for later which many did. Everyone that came through the line was very nice; some were quiet, while others were very talkative. One man even sang a song to those of us passing out food, that he had written about Jesus. After lunch service, all that was left was to clean the kitchen. We washed the dishes, swept and mopped the floors, wiped the counter, and put away any leftovers for the next day.
The soup kitchen of, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, has been operating for 143 years. On average they serve 80-100 at breakfast and 120-200 at lunch. Amazing! They are able to make a real impact on people who have little where else to turn. It is an impressive thing that the volunteers do, six days a week, and I was fortunate to be part of it for a day.