Saturday, April 18, 2009

100 (Serving is hard)

I realize that it isn't the privileged I despise so much as the complainers. Today I (along with 3 others from my church, a 'meal team') prepared a meal for 50 people at a local homeless shelter. We do this about 4 times a year.

You really can't please everyone. We do our best to mix it up, we know a lot of people make the shelter guests baked ziti, so we stray away from that. The guidelines are that we keep it a balanced meal - a protein, a starch, a vegetable.

The meal we prepared tonight was one of my conception: black bean soup, crusty bread, tossed salad (with avocado!) and caramel brownies. I did the shopping, which wouldn't have been a big deal had it not been a trying week, and if I didn't have two serving commitments fall on the same evening. I felt I should probably do the shopping because, as my friend Gerri Sherry puts it, I'm a purist. (The brownies were boxed, only add water nonetheless, and the caramel was pre-made cubed. Does it make me more or less a purist that I did that, and that I'm bringing it up now?) I thought home made bread would be cheaper and more delicious. And, if you've checked out this dutch oven long-rise bread thing, you'll know that very little elbow grease is required.

But I never considered how awesome it would be to prepare a quantity of long rise bread for 50. Hmmph.

Oh right, complainers.

So I get there and there is a guest sitting down watching TV, and she asks me what we're having for dinner. "Oh. Vegetarian." She grumbles, clearly disappointed. I correct her and explain that it technically is not, as I'm using chicken stock, but she has stopped listening and probably doesn't care. Apparently, she is from the school of gourmands who consider any meal without a meat course Not A Meal (a snack?).

So the four of us use the entire two hours allotted to prepare this meal (and then some), and when we serve it and sit down to eat, the woman from earlier reappears. She is angry at the lack of colored beverage in the dispenser. There is plenty of water, but the flavored 'drink' is really low, because the staff is about to change flavors, so they are watching carefully for it to run out.

She walks in, yells "THERE'S NOTHING TO EAT AND NO KOOL AID!" and slams the door on her way out to the patio. The four of us do our best to suppress our reactions. There is a full pot of Panera quality (or better!) black bean soup two feet tall and wider than the circle I can make with my arms, a huge mound of fresh baked crusty bread slices, and a very large bowl of salad, tossed greens, spinach, carrots, celery, cucumber, tomatoes and avocado.

Nothing to eat.

The guests sitting with us think she's ridiculous, and let us know. "She's never satisfied," they say. 'Oh yea, what does she like?' I ask.

"I don't know and frankly, I don't care!" exclaims an old man I have trouble hearing (or maybe just understanding). We share a slight chuckle and the other guests go on to say that this woman would only be satisfied with steak or lobster. One suggests she hitchhike to Maine. "This isn't a hotel. This is a shelter. You're lucky you've got food," one notes. It is good to hear that most of the guests are level-headed and appreciative. They praise the meal, telling me how it was delicious and filling. One guest even talked to us for a while, sharing with us how our presence was a real Godsend for him, as he discussed spiritual things with some of us. He detailed his appreciation, for our company, for the meal, for the fellowship.

Serving is hard, but sometimes, there are moments that make it all worth while.

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