Sharing the Gospel
My neighbor and my sister attend the church next-door to the one I belong to. They are both active members of the Peace and Justice Committee and recently they have been going downtown to center city Philadelphia to do some work with homeless men. When a family emergency called Maggie out of town this week, impulsively I asked my sister if an untrained volunteer might be able to fill in for Maggie. Yes, she might.
So we took the train downtown (and wandered around a bit savoring the enticing aromas in the Reading Terminal Market) and then reported to St. John's Hospice which is located very close to the beautiful new Convention Center. The brief orientation tour provided by Becca, one of the few paid staff members, provided a wealth of information about the services this hospice provides. And the services are multiple and varied: clothing, showers, beds, food, private rooms for medically fragile individuals are among them. The hot lunch is served five days a week, year-round. Thousands of casseroles are prepared by participating congregations, and every last bit is consumed. In addition to casserole, guests can choose among fruit, vegetables, and dessert. Juice and water are amply provided. The smells coming from the kitchen were wonderful.
There were more volunteers than anticipated (turns out Wells Fargo grants some employees time off from work to provide community service) and I was assigned to tray set-up. Others were on the line serving casseroles or on the floor, refilling beverage options. There is room for sixty-four men to eat at a time and the service is offered from noon until one o'clock. Some days as many as 300 men come for lunch (we fed 236 today) and for some, this is the only meal they will have today. Clad in the provided apron, gloves and hairnet (and feeling a bit like Gladys Ormphby), we put disposable cup, plate and cutlery on blue trays and handed them to the guests with a smile and a greeting. I was surprised at how many of the men made eye contact (I did not anticipate this) and nearly every one said "thank you." Most preferred to have the tray handed to them, but some liked to pick the tray up from the table. A second plate was provided upon request. Some of the guests appeared to be dressed too warmly, wearing sweaters or coats, but I realized that storage of possessions is a problem.
Homeless men come in many colors and many ages. Every one that I met today was pleasant and polite and appreciative of a good meal. It felt like a privilege to be serving them. I'd love to go back and do it again.