Monday, August 24, 2009

Like running a restaurant...

As I said, I served at the local meal-kitchen this afternoon. Previously, I had only cooked, or prepared food ahead of time (previously, my schedule didn't allow anything else).

This is a service that feeds pretty much the poorest of the poor in our community. Lots of people walked there - some apparently fairly far. There were a number of developmentally-disabled people. I suppose it's hard in a tough economy to be employed with that challenge. There were a lot of older people, lots of what I assume were single moms - many fairly young.

I admit I'm apprehensive. I don't encounter lots of folks outside of the little circle I'm used to, and I once had someone accuse me of being a snob - saying I "wouldn't know how to relate" to someone outside of my socioeconomic stratum.

Turns out it's not that hard. You treat them with the same kind of civility you'd grant any human being. (I think I was also made apprehensive because one of the ladies at my church gushed on about how it was "a chance to show warmth to people who don't GET much warmth" and I wondered what that meant - I'm not exactly a warm and fuzzy person. Turns out "warmth" to her apparently means speaking politely to people, listening to them, and meeting their eyes when you talk to them. Again, what I figure you do for any human being you're interacting with. I guess I was afraid there'd be more hugging, or something. I don't even hug all my relatives.)

It was, I will say, 2 hours of pretty hard work. I was a "runner" - meaning I went back to the kitchen to get more salad, or more ice, or another pan of casserole, and I spelled the servers that needed a break. (Everyone else took a dinner break. I wasn't feeling very hungry - it's this darn low-grade headache - so I just filled in for everyone and then had a piece of toast when I got home).

Even with the headache I kind of enjoyed it. It's purposeful work. You know what you are doing. You don't have to make big decisions; it is very immediate. People need to be fed. We need ice to put in the water or tea. We need paper towels to mop up a spill.

I do like that kind of work. I don't think I'd go for it every day of my life - I don't think I could be on my feet like that for an eight hour day every day - but once in a while it's a nice change from the head-work I do most of the time.

It IS like running a restaurant. The kitchen is run by a couple, with help from friends and family, and then the volunteer work of different churches and civic groups on a rotation. (They have grants and I think some family money to help pay for it). The man was there at something like 7 this morning getting ready - and they were still finishing up when they told us we could leave around 6. It takes a lot of care and organization and it's subject to the same Board of Health regulations as restaurants. (And everyone is super careful, realizing the implications of the food kitchen being shut down for uncleanliness).

And it does remind you to be grateful for what you have - that I go home at the end of the day and stand in front of a stocked refrigerator and debate as to whether to cook an egg, or have salad, or fix bean soup, or whatever, for dinner. Instead of queuing up with ~100 other people and waiting to be provided what someone I don't know has cooked for me. (And I guess you don't have the luxury of being picky. I will admit another reason I didn't take a dinner break is that the chicken casserole being served simply didn't appeal to me)

We served maybe 200 people. That's less, they say, than the last time my church served there. I don't know if that means there are other social services out there, or if things are really beginning to improve a little, or if it was just a hot day and some of the folks who would have had to walk decided not to.

But yeah, it makes me glad to have the job that I have. Glad to have a paycheck that is outrageously good by global standards (and even, I think, by US standards, at least outside of the richer parts of New York and LA). Glad that I can depend on my own self to take care of myself.

But now I'm tired.

1 comment:

Kate P said...

Yeah, it's really amazing how something like that is organized and equipped to feed hundreds of people, isn't it? A couple I know met while serving in a soup kitchen--really sums up the kind of people they are.

Thanks for sharing the experience with us readers.