This past Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, Matt and I worked a shift at Hesed House, a large homeless shelter and transitional living center just a short way from church. We signed up to work the 3am-7am shift, which meant that we were the breakfast crew!
We worked with an amazing team of folks from St. Timothy. In a small industrial kitchen, we assembled and organized ourselves. On the menu: scrambled eggs (with and without cheese), toast, biscuits and gravy, homemade hash browns, bacon, and assorted fruit/cereal/muffins. There's nothing quite so surreal as cracking seven dozen eggs into a huge pot at 3am!
We cooked and set up the eating area, which was a little intimidating for me, because there were many overflow folks sleeping in the big dining room. As the morning went on, we cooked in shifts and took turns letting people into their lockers and doing "wake-up calls" for people who needed to be up earlier than the general wake-up.
Cindy and I had a wake-up in the women's rooms that was clumsier than we would have hoped. We had to turn on a light to find the right person, and made a little too much noise (trying to keep from stepping on people), and a few women woke up in the process. They were grumbly. Very grumbly. Half-asleep complaining and cursing. And then, out of nowhere, a woman in the corner spoke up.
"God," she said, despairing of the grumpy women and their attitudes, "start the day off saying something good!" She went on to tell them that they were only awake ten minutes earlier than they would have been up originally, and that they could always take a nap later. (But I appreciated her first statement - it's sort of profound, if you think about it. What would our lives be like if we made an effort to start our days off saying something good instead of grumbling?)
The rest of the morning was far less eventful. Lots of shuttling food from the kitchen to the buffet line and serving people eggs and bacon. Most interesting to me was the diversity of folks staying at Hesed House. There were some people who appeared to have been homeless for a while, some who seemed very ordinary, some who seemed a little weird...and then a large handful of people who seemed, well, just like me. That was hard. I think about how lucky I am - to have a job, to have a supportive and helpful family, to have lots of safety nets. And it was tough to see people who, really, are just like me, except that times got tough and there was no one to help them out. Ordinary people, with jobs and families, with no place to call home.
I'm definitely going to volunteer at Hesed House again. I will certainly admit that it takes me out of my comfort zone, but it's totally worth it. Especially during Thanksgiving week, it is fitting that we had the opportunity to serve others and to express our gratitude to God by giving of ourselves.
Happy Thanksgiving, all!