When I think of “family adventure,” I usually think of palm trees and sand. Or Mickey Mouse. Or even an exciting day trip to visit a new exhibit at one of our wonderful NYC museums.
I can’t say I’m thinking about a downstairs school cafeteria painted institutional green and yellow. Nor am I thinking about processing mountains of frozen fish or chicken. Or figuring out how on earth I’m supposed to stretch 2 big cans of tuna into 50 sandwiches.
But, as I take a moment out of our frenzied holiday preparations to ponder this, I realize that my family’s trips to a local soup kitchen should absolutely count as one of our great adventures.
We volunteered for the first time at the Xavier Mission Welcome Table
last Christmas. We had no idea what to expect. We only knew that since our children were underage, we could help only in the preparation (but not serving) of that Sunday’s meal. We signed in at 8:45am, put on aprons, hair nets and gloves and then were put to work at various tasks. All four of us worked hard at different jobs all morning, but I think my husband’s job of cooking a vat of chili in a ginormous pot had to be the most impressive.
The soup kitchen serves 1000+ people a hot meal every Sunday. But the boys and my primary responsibility each visit is to make 50 bagged lunches to hand out to those who need something to take away instead.
Some months, there is plenty of food and then bagged lunch making goes lickety-split. Other months, it seems that we’ve run short on everything except packs of salt, pepper and ketchup. That’s when I want to pull my hair in frustration and sadness because I’m imagining that hungry someone squeezing ketchup out on a dry roll and thawed lunch meat trying to make the food palatable.
Once we finish our primary lunch packing task, we look to our Sunday’s coordinator (the ever cheerful Jennie) to see how else we can help.
The boys are often set to wrapping utensils and salt/pepper packs in napkins.
They also separate and sort plastic bags and take out containers.
Occasionally, we’re asked to pour and stack cups of juice. By the way, pouring and stacking 1000+ cups of juice in light weight plastic cups is not a trivial job….
The most physically tiring job I’ve done thus far was chopping up giant round loaves of donated artisanal bread for folks to take home with them. I really mean giant… and heavy… as in the loaves could have doubled as door stops…
On the months my husband joins us, Jennie teases him about his strong biceps and sends him straight to the kitchen to chop chicken, potatoes, onions and whatever else needs chopping… you know I get a big kick out of this, right? Especially since his one dish he makes at home is “cooking” packages of ramen…
It’s amazing to see all the volunteers who show up month after month to help out with this Sunday meal. Some of the folks have been volunteering 20+ years. I am inspired… touched… humbled.
My boys take this once-a-month morning’s work very seriously. They rejoice with me when there is food to distribute. And share my frustration when there is not. They look for ways to be helpful. And wonder if there are ways to be more efficient. They pack, sort, clean and learn. And I hope they understand. Of course, soup kitchen must be counted as an important family adventure.