This summer I’m riding with Ray once a week and serving with various ministries downtown that work with the poor and homeless. These are some of my reflections on what I see and learn.
This past Tuesday was my first time serving at the Mission Soup Kitchen. I stood at the kitchen door and handed out full plates of food, drinks and desserts. The plates were overflowing with pizza, noodle casserole, BBQ chicken, green beans with chick peas, and a cupcake for dessert. The numbers of people coming for food has been down lately and the supervisor speculated that many were being forced to choose between walking in the intense Texas heat (100+ temperatures lately) and a full belly. I can’t imagine having to make that choice, but the lack of AC in my car is helping me to appreciate those who have to deal with the heat.
The people coming for food are some of what you might imagine. They are not clean. Many of them are dealing with diseases such as TB and AIDS. Many of them don’t have social skills or might have various disabilities, both physical and mental. What surprised me was some of the people who you would never have guessed need help getting food. One guy obviously worked as a mechanic at an auto repair place. I have seen in other cities guys in suits at shelters and soup kitchens. It’s important to remember that the poor are not a homogenous race of people who all look alike and have the same problems. Poverty afflicts all kinds of people from all walks of life. Someone once said that we’re all a couple of bad decisions away from poverty and that’s probably true to an extent.
The soup kitchen is run entirely by volunteers. No one, not even the executive director, receives a salary. I don’t understand how a place like this continues to run. The people that volunteer are people who believe both in what the soup kitchen does and the God who calls them to serve the poor. It also depends a lot on the community of faith in our area which includes my buddy Ray who keeps the freezer stocked and a couple of guys who run a business called Compassionate Carpenters that helps with maintenance and upkeep.
In order to fully serve at the soup kitchen I had to take a food handler’s class. So, after serving lunch I headed a block down the road to the health department. I was definitely the only person their to get this class for a ministry. Everyone else was clearly getting a job at a restaurant or convenience store. I still can’t get over the irony that these people will be working at places that feed the homeless with their waste. If you have ever sat through one of these classes you understand why the teacher warns you not to fall asleep. The 45-minute video was made sometime in the late 80s or early 90s. It repeated the same information several times and featured awkward looking employees and bosses and a ridiculously enthusiastic host.
The most interesting thing is that most of the examples in the video are fast food establishments which highlights the fact that our health department regulations are geared primarily for fast food and franchised food establishments. As with alternative farming and restaurant models that don’t conform to most of the food establishments, I imagine that they often run into difficulties where the regulations are either too cumbersome or unable to accommodate alternative ways of growing, handling, processing and serving food. This would include the way people normally ate food for centuries before the McDonaldization of our food.