In my last blog post, I mentioned that love is everything. That’s my truth, and I believe it wholeheartedly. Some might agree that food comes in a close second though, right? For “foodies” like myself, many of our days revolve around thinking about our next meals, searching for recipes, following Instagram food pages, watching the Food Network, eating at top rated restaurants, drooling on our delicious desserts before inhaling them. I’m not typically a mindful eater, as I’ve tried to be so many times. I just get way too excited. For example, I get home from school and stand as I pick at “a little bit of everything” in my kitchen. Does it cross my mind how fortunate I am to have this food so readily available to me whenever I need to satisfy a craving? Do I consider how I might feel if I couldn’t eat whenever I felt the tiniest hunger pain? Am I truly grateful before, during, and after my meals? I wish I could honestly answer “yes” to all of these questions, but I’d be lying. Merely saying, “Mmmm, this is so good!” before scarfing down my meal does not signify genuine gratitude. I’m sad to say I didn’t often consider the answers to these questions until yesterday.
While volunteering at Elijah’s Promise in New Brunswick, I was removed from my temporary bubble of oblivion. I entered the soup kitchen without any expectation, mainly because I didn’t know what to expect at all. When I arrived at 4, a couple hours prior to dinner being served, I was pleased to see the dining room set up like a cute cafe. Delicious aromas permeated the air. There were round and square tables and booths available for the guests, pretty pictures and signs hung on the walls, flowers adorned the tables, and the silverware was wrapped nicely in a napkin garnished with a colorful bow. A few guests sat in the booths, snacking on sandwiches. I spoke with some of the people in the dining area and met a few volunteers who also frequent the soup kitchen, all of whom knew it was my first time. They quickly let me know what I should and should not do. I was appreciative of their guidance. I especially enjoyed helping a volunteer and military veteran, Will, set the tables for dinner. He was so kind and welcoming. He happily answered all of my questions and showed me the ropes.
It wasn’t long before I left my comfort zone with Will and the guests in the dining room and was guided into… dun, dun, DUUUNNN… the kitchen. (Side note: I’m only comfortable in industrial sized kitchens if I’m the eater. That’s about it.) I was not there to eat yesterday. Fortunately, my nerves subsided when everyone, including the kitchen supervisor, was incredibly warm and supportive. All of my jobs were modeled and done with me before I was left to do them on my own. As a teacher, I’m usually on the other end of the scaffolding instruction, and I truly appreciated the supervisor’s use of such necessary techniques with me in the kitchen. Her excellent instruction is what led me to…
Cabbage. 500,000 cabbages to be exact. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. My main mission before dinnertime was to make as much coleslaw as possible using what cabbages were left. And that’s exactly what I did. I chopped and chatted with another helpful volunteer who happened to be from my hometown, East Brunswick, and knew almost my entire block of neighbors from childhood. Small world. So, we chopped, chatted, chopped, chatted until voila! I was ready to mix. I threw the ingredients in a bowl the size of Texas and used my hands (with gloves, of course) which was a ton of fun. I put my whole heart into making it, and I’ve never been so proud of coleslaw in my entire life. The final product was beautiful. Delicious. Exquisite! It was so good, I now have a new self-proclaimed title, The Coleslaw Queen.
As 6:00 approached, the dining room filled quickly. After hats were removed and heads bowed for grace, dinner was served for an hour. My main duties were in the back of the kitchen, so I was not one of the servers this time around. I helped the servers as needed and frequently scanned the serving line and the dining room during dinner. I could hear and see love flow from the volunteers to the guests, the guests to the volunteers, the guests to their loved ones at the tables. I witnessed people laughing, talking, and savoring each bite and each moment. The room abounded with gratitude. I was especially grateful for the moment and the experience. I, the Coleslaw Queen, began to see my own privilege in a different light. Being among wonderful, new souls who were full of love and appreciation for every last bit of food on their plates both filled my spirit and humbled me at the same time. I went home last night with a new type of hunger, a hunger completely unrelated to food. While I’m completely satisfied by my experience at the soup kitchen, my hunger to improve myself, connect with others, and spread love has grown. I think that’s a pretty good kind of hunger though, and I definitely plan to satisfy it.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love actual food too. I’m just going to be more mindful and appreciative of my food experiences. Today was Jabari’s day off, and he made me breakfast in bed this morning because he’s the best. I can honestly say, it was the most delicious omelette and coffee I’ve ever had. Maybe even as good as my coleslaw.
You can read more information about Elijah’s Promise on their website. They rely on donated goods for all meals, so please consider making a donation. I will volunteer at Elijah’s Promise every week for the rest of the summer and would be happy to transport the goods for you. Please contact me if you’re interested.
I couldn’t figure out why people were staring at me on my way back to my car. Turns out I forgot to take my hairnet off. :o)