If you think you’ve got problems…

The title might make you think this was a rant. It’s not at all. I just wanted to share an experience that I had, one that reminds me that the cup is always half full.

I was walking around after getting a Hep B shot, trying to decide what I would do with the rest of my day. I had a book I’ve been meaning to read in hand (The Covenant) and knew there was a Starbucks a few blocks up. It was a beautiful day outside, I love to walk, and I won’t be able to just make spontaneous decisions to fill my empty days for too much longer (because I’ll be starting work soon), so I decided to take the trip. I figured it was better than sitting in the house.

As I was walking, I thought about nothing in particular. I thought about how many people were outside jogging, how busy the street was, and how I should have been hungry, even though I wasn’t feeling particularly so. I’d walked to get my shot (a good 40 minutes) and I hadn’t had much more than a few tics tacs.  I also kept thinking about the constant patter of footsteps I heard behind me. Now, I’m not plum dumb (just some dumb, as my Aunt would say) so I was keeping tabs on just how far they were behind me with a casual glance every now and again.  I was thinking I might grab a homemade donut while I read (I just discovered them) and let that tide me over until I got home. As I kept walking, I saw a store I wanted to stop into. I pushed the signal to cross the street, and for whatever reason, it never changed. I’m always down for a good jaywalk (even though I do know some folks who have gotten tickets for it) but something changed my mind. I decided to just walk a little further and cross the street a couple blocks down.  Moving forward, a sign caught my eye. The sign said “soup kitchen 11:30-12:30”. I was curious. I was even more curious when the owner of aforementioned footsteps turned into the church where the soup kitchen was housed. I crossed the street and hooked a right, behind him this time. Before I walked in, I checked the time. It was 11:40.

I walked up a short flight of stairs and turned the corner. There was a room FULL of people. I looked toward the front of the room to find the food, which I thought was served assembly line style (I was wrong, they asked patrons to take a table and sit). The room was predominantly filled with men: older men, younger men, men of all races. I saw a few families in there, too. In fact, I took a seat one table over from a family of 5. I ended up taking a seat at a table full of, you guessed it, men.

While I gathered my bearings, the markers on the table caught my eye.  It said “no requirements, no charge, just come and eat”. I was amazed. People walked around and brought plates to those without plates, filled glasses with Iced tea, and asked patrons if they wanted dessert (or more soup).  I think the people who were there really felt welcome. I felt welcome. I flagged down a passing volunteer, asked her how I could sign up to help.  She pointed to the table at the front of the room, told me the information was there, and thanked me for asking about it. I was taken aback. She thanked me?! I watched volunteers of various ages (I wondered why a the handful of school aged children who were helping were there) make conversation with the people they served and actively look for ways to be helpful. Before I left, I grabbed a sheet with the volunteer information.

Back outside, I kept walking toward the Starbucks, my mind racing. The table placard kept echoing in my head “no requirements, no charge, just come and eat”. I didn’t have to live in a certain neighborhood, I didn’t have to have a certain income. I didn’t have to trot out a “woe is me” story. Nothing. While there might have been some people there who were down on their luck, nothing said that anyone who ate there had to be.  A very “come as you are” mentality pervaded that church turned soup kitchen. It was a beautiful thing.

I share this story because I think we might often take for granted that people who take their meals at a place where they can get them for free can’t afford to get them otherwise. While that is true in some cases, it certainly isn’t true in all of them.  Next time you are thinking about all you don’t have, go somewhere you wouldn’t normally go. Do something you wouldn’t normally do.  I ended up at the soup kitchen when I did.*

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