About a year ago my children and I began volunteering at a local soup kitchen. I had been looking around at volunteering opportunities, but finding nothing which would a) allow us to work on a flexible schedule and b) allow various ages to be present. My husband and I wanted to serve our community in some way and have our kids join in, but we were coming up empty.
Then, lo and behold, a sign up sheet at a 4-H meeting brought us into contact with the soup kitchen two towns over. They serve lunch Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and worked with whomever showed up in the mornings. It sounded perfect and I quickly signed us up.
The first day was a little overwhelming. We showed up and were introduced to the Deacon and some of the people who were regular volunteers. We picked up aprons and hats, rolled up our sleeves and started chopping tomatoes. Then we moved on to clean up and setting out the different menu items on the serving line. My children were tasked with washing dishes and I was placed on the serving line, trying to remember to smile at all the strangers and ask if they wanted cake or cookies for dessert.
For an introvert like me, that was a tad rough. But I quickly forgot my discomfort, as person after person filed in. They waved hello to people they knew, asked about family members not present, and talked about what they would be doing later in the day. They include me in their greetings and all said thank you when I handed them their plate.
I could hear my children joking with the helpers in the kitchen. Later, when the line slowed a bit, they came out and ate with those present. While they mostly stayed quiet, they answered any questions and even smiled when given compliments.
Afterwards, I asked them what they thought. Both of them said they liked the place and wanted to come back. Hooray! We had found a way to help out.
Since that first day, we’ve worked in more of the areas of the kitchen. The kids have been on the serving line and I’ve washed dishes. We’ve all refilled drinks and mopped floors. We’ve carried in produce and wiped down counters.
Those who come in to eat are no longer a faceless humanity. They are the woman with long fingernails and a beard who has a beautiful smile and likes large pieces of cake. They are the elderly man with a knit cap and white beard who will talk until he gets you to laugh. They are the gruff man who never smiles but always says ‘Thank you’ when handed his plate. They are the woman with her wheelchair bound mother, always making sure her mother eats first and wiping her face carefully when the older woman spills.
They are not perfect or conventionally beautiful. They are something even better.
They are Christ. And we are privileged to serve.