Our church has partnered with the other UU church in town for over 15 years to provide dinner quarterly at a local family shelter . In my quest to find community service options that are well-suited to our family, I took part in this undertaking last week.
I tell you this not to pat myself on the back, but because of the parts of myself I had to confront because of this reaching out to others.
I walked in the front door of the shelter and introduced myself to the receptionist by telling her I was there to help with dinner. As she went to find the staff person in charge of dinner volunteers, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find the sweetest face looking into my eyes.
“What are we having for dinner?”
This was asked by a child who could have been The Buster if The Buster had curly hair instead of straight. And if Buster went to a school that required a uniform.
A couple stereotypes kicked to the curb: There were white folks staying as guests at the shelter. People staying at shelters can be articulate and precious and interesting. Oh, and homeless kids apparently can go to schools that require uniforms.
Truly, this child shone with an inner sparkle. I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or girl, but I was drawn to this precious human.
The pleasure and lessons of the evening went on from there.
Due to a mix-up with scheduling, our group was signed up with another group to serve, so there was an over-abundance of food. What an amazing blessing.
It was an awesome spread.
We had chicken, pulled pork, grits, corn, rolls, fruit salad, cookies, spice cake, and sweet tea.
The other volunteers serving were a group of college friends, now in their late 40’s-early 50’s, who all lived within 45 minutes of each other, but never saw each other. They decided to change that by regularly volunteering to bring meals to Ronald McDonald House, Hospital Hospitality House (the adult version of Ronald McDonald House), and now they were adding Safe Haven to their list of food-donation spots.
What a fantastic idea and so humbling to serve with them.
It was unclear if the shelter guests would have welcomed someone joining them at their tables. I’m sure they would have been kind, but different groups serve dinner every night, 365 nights a year, at the shelter. Having to be open and friendly and visiting with strangers every night would be exhausting. And just because I would have been honored to learn their stories, that doesn’t mean they would have cared to share their stories.
Instead I made conversation with people as they came to fill their plates, and if they chose to stand with me and visit for a few minutes, I was grateful. Another Mom and I talked about raising children, and the curly-headed pixie and I talked about her day and finding joy in life.
I drove home emotionally overwhelmed, grateful, and feeling so helpless.
The shelter has 10 units for families. It was full.
There were at least 10-12 children served that night.
Something isn’t right. This isn’t how the world should work.
I haven’t decided if I’m emotionally ready to go back to Safe Haven, and even more unsure if it is a good fit for the children. I want to fix things, but these people don’t need me to fix things, they just need society to make it possible for them to fix it themselves. We need to all fix this together.