Yet another job-encouraged good deed! I swear, my job is making this Do Good Stuff project pretty easy.
Yesterday during my lunch break, I went downtown to a community center to feed the elderly some lunch. This particular center houses two separate charities – one serves a free Kosher meal to isolated and/or homeless Jews (and has been around since 1889! WHA?) and the other serves a non-Kosher lunch to various low-income elderly who pay a small fee to eat.
They pay $1.50.
Because that is all they can pay.
I put on a plastic apron and a hairnet and went upstairs to serve the elderly some food. I was in charge of bread duty.
I find volunteer work relatively easy since I’m naturally helpful and have somewhat of a ‘people personality’ in general. I probably learned this from my mother, who is a People Person times 100,000,000. Also, thanks to my mom’s intense involvement with the church when I was younger, which included dragging me to 987 various types of functions, I am a grown up who is not easily fazed by homeless people, sick people, etc. (As a young child and pre-teen, I kind of hated how my mom would always make me hang around these types of people because it made me uncomfortable and all I can say now, years and years later is that my mom was kind of the best? So, thanks, mom, for teaching me yet again about humanity. And I have to stop talking about my mom and how awesome she is because I’m already crying. ALREADY! THE TEARS! STOP. MOVING ON.)
When I first started serving food and saw these people start to line up in a cafeteria for lunch, my throat started to close up a little bit as I realized how bad things must be that they have to show up to a community center to get a hot lunch for $1.50. So, my heart started breaking for these people, but then I realized how my mental chatter sounded so pitying and condescending to the lovely people in front of me and so, after awhile I was just like Laura? SHUT UP. Nobody likes a young privileged girl who is all AW LOOK AT THE POOR PEOPLE. Like they’re in some kind of zoo or something.
Ugh, I felt ashamed of myself.
So I shut up.
And I watched.
And I tried to just…give.
And be myself.
And you know what? These people may be poor in some ways but they are so, so rich in others.
There was a man who waited patiently at the end of the food line just so he could carry trays for people who needed canes to walk and couldn’t get back to their table holding their food. He would get up from his table when he knew someone was coming down the line who needed help. Then he would wait patiently for the person to make their way to the end and he would pick up and carry their tray as the other person followed behind with their cane or walker. Then the man would go back to his table and resume eating his lunch.
I lost track of how many times this man got up from his table to help.
It was my favorite thing to watch.
There was a husband carefully selecting each item, one for him and one for his wife.
“She doesn’t like dark meat!” he told the man serving up barbecue chicken.
“That’s my boy!” she said, her eyes twinkling.
“I know all your favorites!” her husband said, offering her his arm to walk her back to the table.
Another woman requested no vegetables on her plate.
“NO GREENS!” she chirped and I smiled at her.
“I’m so bad!” she said and started laughing. “Such a bad girl! I know I should eat them but I hate vegetables!”
I started laughing too.
“Just like a kid!” I said.
“You bet, honey!” she told me. And winked.
Another woman grabbed a piece of bread, flashed me a smile and said, “How do you like looking at your future!?”
“I tell ya,” she said. “When I was your age, I NEVER thought I’d be this old!”
“You seem happy, though,” I said.
“Oh I am,” she told me.
I believed her. 100%.
Such richness in that hour and a half of my life. Such beauty and love. Such giving among people who do not have much to give.
Thank you! they said to me.
Thank you for being here! Thanks for the bread! Thank you for helping!
THANK YOU FOR HELPING? I am standing here in a hairnet watching you all treat each other with respect and dignity and grace.
When I cried on the walk back to my office, it wasn’t because there are some people in this world who are poor and that can be sad to see.
I cried because there are people in this world who struggle mightily and never let it show.
People who smile in the face of hardship, who laugh and love regardless of how much money is in their bank account.
Probably not much at all.
I have so much to learn.
The woman who runs the program snapped this pic of me on her phone. I look pretty awesome in my hairnet, right?! I can’t wait to go back again soon.