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Wed Sep 9, 2020, 09:55 AM

In the Soup Kitchen During the Year of the Corona Virus, September 9, 2020

10 Months ago, I began as a volunteer cook in the local soup kitchen. The temperatures were mild, with a hint of the winter to come. After nearly 4 year post-nuclear, I had reached the point where I could offer myself to this effort for at least one day per week. I had some experience in commercial baking in my late teen’s, a job on weekends and summers during college. With that ancient experience in hand I joined in and soon found myself feeling genuinely useful.

I discovered that we had around 80 visitors for Breakfast, and about 120 for lunch each day. We do not serve Dinner but would hand out to-go sandwiches to anyone asking. On a routine day we gave around 50 sandwiches out. The number meals and sandwiches we serve out visitors will rise around 20% in the final days of the month, as that month’s benefit payments ran low for many of our Visitors.

After the Corona, these daily meal numbers tripled for many weeks, and we had to switch to take-out only format. With the exception for a few well isolated and socially distanced table that are available for the Documented Homeless,(Yes, there is such a status in Connecticut anyway). Here they can sit, eat, and take care of daily hygiene needs, while recharging their mobile devices and doing their laundry (two loads, once per week).

After the summer descended upon us, our daily volume fell to about double pre-pandemic levels, we never expect them to return to these original levels again. Those pleasant temperature from last fall were long gone, our facility has no air conditioning, during one of the hottest days in August, my meat thermometer read 108 degrees F on the shelf.

In the past 10 months, amongst other things, I have learned the following:

1. Food insecurity is much worse than I imagined, with the areas two largest employers paying at or close to minimum wage for almost all jobs. Many of the workers work multiple part time jobs, but still find themselves unable to eat a few days a month.

2. Our volunteer base of kitchen and support staff is mostly over 65, and a few are in their early 80’s. I am 58 and am the kid most days. The Covid-19 pandemic has made about 75% of these people unavailable to work, so I increased my work schedule to three days per week, and now arrive at 5:30 AM instead of 6:30, and leave around 2:30 PM, instead of 1:30.

3. Only about 10% of our visitors are homeless, and live in one of several tent villages in the area. These people suffer the worst indignities and are mostly seen on the streets of our small city during daylight hours.

4. I can cook a mean side dish, and I can turn box potatoes into some genuinely tasty. This effort does come with a personal price tag; each workday I bring in around $20.00 worth of supplements to make this improvement a reality.

5. Not everyone is cut out to do this work. We get a small number of people who are working their community service hours. Many of them last only one shift, and never return, or they are asked to not return. Many of our visitors have various forms of psychological impairments, and taunting, belittling, or ignoring them is not the way to help them.

6. The waste of usable food is very real in my area. Each day we get many pounds of perishable foods donated by several large supermarkets and chain restaurants. About one third of this food is not usable when we get it, one day sooner and it would have been fine. Sometimes the donations are truly amazing, a bakery chain's local store sends great stuff at lease twice a week, and I personally thank them everytime I visit there location.

I am not a religious man, and find little to offer in organized religion, but when I feed our visitors, to paraphrase Eric Liddell, I feel that “god gave me this hidden talent, and when I feed others, I feel his pleasure”.

I also feel I am paying back for the extreme kindness shown me and my children many years ago. Those who have been here since the beginning, may remember the loss of my first wife, April, to cancer. Random people both here, and in my community, showed me that not everyone expects reward for doing kind things.

Thanks for reading, my next Journal post is a Winneroux,

Throckmorton


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Response to Throckmorton (Original post)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 10:07 AM

1. I am glad that I read this journal entry.

Thank you.



-Laelth

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Response to Throckmorton (Original post)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 10:12 AM

2. I remember you, Throckmorton.

You're a human angel; thanks for pitching in to those in need.

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Response to Throckmorton (Original post)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 10:41 AM

3. K&R

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Response to Throckmorton (Original post)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 11:07 AM

4. You point out in #6 the waste involved in donating food to food banks rather than cash....

Unfortunately too much of the well intentioned food donations go to waste or are inappropriate.

If people are contributing food to a food bank, save the money and give it to the food bank. The one around here claims that every dollar contributed can pay for 2.5 meals. $100 can buy 250 meals.

They get huge discounts from food suppliers, and the food they purchase is best suited to mass preparation and distribution, much more efficiently than actual food, with very little waste.

Also, as you say in #5, not everyone is cut out to actually volunteer. I know I'm not. That's why I try to contribute as much as I can all year.

Glad you have the personality and dedication to actually do the work to provide all those meals.

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Response to Throckmorton (Original post)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 11:26 AM

5. Thank you

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Response to Throckmorton (Original post)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 11:27 AM

6. You are a true local hero. Excellent post. What is a Winneroux?

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Response to Evolve Dammit (Reply #6)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 12:07 PM

11. Completely different subject.

And man does it explain the paternal side of my lineage.

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Response to Throckmorton (Reply #11)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 07:44 PM

18. Thanks. Never heard that term before!

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Response to Throckmorton (Original post)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 11:33 AM

7. I have in the past done volunteer work at a local homeless shelter

in the kitchen. I have learned to cook vast amounts of food and what works and doesn't work to feed this population.

Like your place, many of the volunteers are older. One way to get younger people to help out is to reach out to local high schools. Often there's either a community service requirement, or they have a service club. Whenever we've gotten young kids in they have been enthusiastic and very good at the job. My shelter does dinners, which makes it easier for young people to show up.

Donated food can be very welcome, but as you noted, often it is not usable. And some grocery stores and restaurants are truly wonderful with their donations. Panera Bread routinely donates leftover baked goods at the end of their day. My shelter gets stuff from them. Also, some years ago I was hanging out at a Panera and it was getting close to closing. I decided I wanted another pastry. They had already begun packing up their stuff to give to a food bank (I was in a different city then) and they didn't even charge me for the pastry. For some reason I was under the impression that any money in the tip jar at Panera was donated somewhere, but a quick on-line search doesn't say that.

I am likewise not at all religious, but whenever I do a shift at the shelter I feel very good about it. Our guests are always appreciative. I have been relatively poor at times in my life, but never homeless or even on the edge. I am relatively well off now, and this is the least I can do. Oh, I'll also pat myself on the back by saying that when I got my $1200 (and I was one of the first, lucky me) I immediately gave half to that homeless shelter and another half to the local food bank. If there's another stimulus payment, it will likewise be given away. I know I am very fortunate that I can do that.

Many of them do have drug, alcohol, or mental health problems. Living on the street, no matter why, is not going to be easy. Many people have gotten there because of drug, alcohol, or mental health problems. There needs to be a better way to help these people.

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Response to PoindexterOglethorpe (Reply #7)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 01:03 PM

16. Panera is the chain that donates to us.

Really good items too.

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Response to Throckmorton (Original post)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 11:46 AM

8. K & R and thank you for sharing..

It's important we all read this from those on the front lines. Our country is failing.

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Response to Throckmorton (Original post)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 12:06 PM

9. Saying on the back of my Meals on Wheels tee shirt:

"Volunteers are unpaid, not because they are worthless but because they are priceless."

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Response to Throckmorton (Original post)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 12:07 PM

10. Thanks for sharing this post and showing that heros don't have to catch footballs or wear uniforms.

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Response to Throckmorton (Original post)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 12:12 PM

12. Thank you Throckmorton for sharing this story and thanks for all you work in helping others. nt

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Response to Throckmorton (Original post)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 12:25 PM

13. K&R. Thank you.

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Response to Throckmorton (Original post)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 12:26 PM

14. Thank you for sharing part of your story with us.

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Response to Throckmorton (Original post)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 12:40 PM

15. thanks for this reality from trumps america

you are closer to the creator than those so-called Christian hypocrites that populate the religious faiths in America.

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Response to llashram (Reply #15)

Wed Sep 9, 2020, 01:38 PM

17. That's right! Well said!...

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