Warning -- Today’s post is a really long one. There’s just a lot to write about.
I had the most amazing experience on Monday. I volunteered to volunteer at Miriam’s Kitchen. It’s located in the basement of a Presbyterian Church in on Virginia Avenue in Washington, DC. I don’t actually know the name of the church. The group I was working with is called the DC Foodies Do Good and it was started by my friend and nutritionist Robyn Webb.
As the date got closer I thought that I must have lost my mind. We had to be at the church by 6am to begin helping cook and/or serve breakfast. Why in the heck did I volunteer? I haven’t had to be anywhere by 6am in over a year. I don’t even get up until 7 or 7:30 most days so what was I doing volunteering to be someplace at 6am? Well, I know it was God’s hand in all this. I’ve been feeling for a while now that since I’ve been doing so much “self work” to make improvements in my life that it was time for me to help others. I kept telling God I wasn’t ready but God’s always right and finally later became now.
I almost didn’t make it on Monday. I set my alarm plenty early but after it went off I somehow fell back asleep. Next thing I know I’m waking up and it’s 5:20! I was supposed to be in the car and on the road at 5:15am. OMG!!!!!! I showered, dressed and was in my car mostly dressed by 5:30am. Whoo!! Don’t ask me how. I’m not really sure. I’m not even sure I remembered to wear all my clothes. :-)
Anyway, I arrived just in time. Don’t ask me how fast I was driving.....
I wasn’t the last one to arrive thankfully. Someone else arrived the same time I did.
I grabbed the shirt Robyn Webb gave me, said a prayer that it would fit and hussled off to the ladies room to change. The shirt fit. I can’t believe it fit. It was an XL and it fit. I haven’t worn an XL shirt in a very long time. Over a year, maybe two years I’m guessing.
I was assigned to work with Margo. She was a regular volunteer with Miriam’s Kitchen. They were short a few regular volunteers and they asked me to work with her in the dining room instead of the kitchen. I smiled, like I always do, and proceeded to stock my area. I was in charge of the coffee, sugar, milk/creamer table. My job was to keep it all stocked and serve the guests coffee.
Before I go on with how the breakfast and serving went I want to talk about Miriam’s Kitchen. They served over 250 people for breakfast Monday morning. They passed out 250 cards but actually think they served a few more. They estimate that they serve over 4000 people each year and made over 52,000 meals last year. This is pretty incredible organization. They serve very healthy foods. For instance, for breakfast Monday they served whole wheat pancakes, stone ground grits, veggies quesadilla, and baked apples and sugar-free cereal. The chefs and coordinators insist or serving hearty, healthy foods to the guests. They have actually turned away businesses who have offered them hundreds or thousands of donuts leftover from conferences and things like that. They refuse to serve crap. It’s pretty impressive. They way they serve is kind of impressive too. Everyone that comes in is given a number. As breakfast is prepared the numbers are called. Kind of like when you’re at the DMV. I guess this keeps the line at the kitchen down.
So, promptly at 6:30am they opened the doors. Most of the prep wasn’t done. Cereal table wasn’t stocked and coffee was still kinda brewing and apparently they were behind in the kitchen. It was starting to rain so the coordinators said the doors had to be opened on time today.
So in they came. Men, mostly. A few women 3 or 4 but mostly men. Some were very dirty and grungy and others were not as dirty looking. I guess semi-clean is the best way to put it. Some of them even had gov’t IDs hanging around their necks. They have jobs but in this economy, still don’t have enough money for meals or regular shelter.
They hit the juice and coffee table first. The two tables were close together. Some other volunteer guy was handing out juice. I don’t know if he couldn’t talk or just didn’t talk but he never said two words to me. Oh, well. ... The men filed passed and ask for very full mugs of coffee. We had both regular and hazelnut flavored for them. I smiled and said “Good morning” and was so surprised to see how many of them asked me “How are you?”
How am I? I’m inside and warm and dry. How am I?
Most of them had very high spirits. They smiled at me as I served them. I got to talk to a few of them. I got to meet “John Wayne” aka Koolaid. He’s 50 and blessed by God for every day. What a blessing he was to me Monday morning. Quite a few of them have cell phones. Some of them pay for it themselves. I wonder where the bills go? Some of them are paid for by their families. The men who talked talked ALOT without even being asked much. Told me how their sister or whomever was paying for their phones. I let some of them come behind the table and plug in their phones for charging and I guarded them so they wouldn’t get stolen or wet.
Then there was Mr. TMI. I don’t know what his name was but he came through several times. He liked to make me laugh. You see, he made a crass comment about loving some Hazel not loving the “nuts.” Nuts being well, ya know. Anyway, the way he said it made me laugh OUT LOUD and blush. At first I think he was embarrassed to be saying something crass in front of a woman but as soon as I told him “Yo, dude, that’s too much TMI” and kept laughing he smiled and laughed. He kept coming back and asking for a little more Hazel and a lot less nuts. :-) He was fun.
Then there was the man who stood in front of me an chattered about something for like 10 minutes. I couldn’t understand a thing he said. He was just chattering and mumbling about something that happened 2 weeks ago. Although I have a feeling it was 2 weeks ago in another dimension. So I just smiled, and kept pouring him coffee and said things like “Really?” “Wow!” He toddled off to his table eventually. He came back a few times and kept mumbling and chattering the whole time. I have no idea what he was talking about.
Then there’s Johnny. I don’t know if that’s his name so in my memory I’ve named him Johnny. He was kind of young. Probably in his thirties. There were kind of a lot of guys there in their early or late thirties. Actually most of the men there were between 30 adn 50 I’d guess. Shocking and depressing. ... but I digress... Anyway, Johnny told me how much he appreciated this place and my smile and me being nice to him. He hadn’t eaten since Friday and said he was feeling very depressed until he came in and got a smile from us.
Then there was Mr. Watley. I don’t know if that’s his name either but he’s a regular there. One of the volunteers talked with him but I missed his name. He was dressed and stood very “proper”. He reminded me of a school principal. After getting his coffee he stood in the corners and just watched the room. He didn’t talk. I got the impression from him body language that touching was out of the question so I tried to respect his space when he came through for coffee.
Then there was Stinky Sam. He was dressed well in layers but didn’t smell so hot. He gave me a hug while I was cleaning up and thanked me for all the coffee.
Then there were the guys I knew. There were several men and women who came for breakfast who I have seen panhandling in DC for years. There were 2 guys that I am certain I know them. I mean KNOW them. I worked somewhere that they’ve worked or are working. Neither one had gov’t badges on but I recognized them and it was a work-type memory but I just can’t place where it was. How shocking to look into the face of someone I used to know. Even if only remotely.
I was truly blessed by the entire experience. I can’t believe they were smiling and in good spirits. None of them was grumpy towards me. I was REALLY surprised at the amount of sugar these men used. They put sugar LOTS and LOTS of sugar on everything. They added it to their juice, coffee, tea, cereal and even their milk. I found out while talking with Sarah that they do this for two reasons. The first is they’ve been on the streets so long and may be sick so they’re taste buds are damages and they can’t really taste a lot of foods. Another reason is they need to sugar to keep them awake and hold back the crash that’s about to hit them. Many of them are coming down off some kind of “high” by the time breakfast is served. They want and need to stay awake so they pile on the coffee and sugar. That’s so sad.
It was an awesome experience for me overall. I plan to come back. They serve dinner too but I think I like breakfast. I was exhausted when it was over but so glad that I chose to participate.
Holly Morris from Fox 5 in the Morning came and shot three great videos of the work being done here. Below is the link to the videos. At the end of the second video you can seem standing in the back of the kitchen tweeting about the experience.