Improving Our Serve

Last night on the street was pretty amazing! There was a line stretching all the way across the park, before we were even unloaded. It was the last Thursday of August, so we should expect this. We had plenty of food and we had plenty of volunteers. I brought turkey vegetable soup, hundreds of sandwiches, a case of pastries, eight gallons of iced tea, a baking tray of pasta and sauce, cups, forks spoons, napkins, hot sauce and no ladle. The Philoptochos Society of Holy Annunciation made and brought 175 meatball sandwiches wrapped in foil, green salad, rolls and I don’t know what else. Someone brought peanuts, peaches and apples. I won’t attempt to name all of the volunteers, because they don’t want me to and I would forget some and some I don’t know. With such a bounty of good food it was hard to maintain order, even though there was plenty for everyone.

I had conversations with a few of the volunteers, after the crowd dispersed, about how we need to raise our level of organization and come to terms with appropriate etiquette for serving on the street. I am going to try to address some of the concerns that were raised here; others will be addressed to individuals and in Q & A sessions that I hope can be organized. This is in the interest of safety, order and to try to improve our service as ambassadors of God’s mercy, as we serve in Jesus’ Name.

Most important is that we must serve without “respect of persons;” that’s Bible speak for “discrimination”. The people whom we serve are our brothers and sisters and are to be treated with respect and without judging. We need to treat everyone with respect and humility. We are not there to flaunt how Christian we are. We are there to meet Christ in his distressing disguise and hopefully, possibly, mercifully, by God’s surprising grace, become worthy of the name Christian. (We need to treat all of the other volunteers with respect, as well.)

Be willing to take direction and recognize who is and who is not authorized to give it. “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians” as the old saying goes (that is probably not politically correct anymore) leads to chaos. On the street, I am in charge and I expect to be heard and responded to. If I ask you to move to a different position or task or to do something in a different way, please respond quickly. Sometimes it is just a result of my judgment from having done this for over twenty years. Sometimes it is to try to maintain order. Sometimes it is for your safety or the safety of the group. I am willing to learn and make changes. Discussion comes later. I tend to be pretty loosey-goosey, but I have found that I have a lower tolerance for chaos at 55 than I did at 29. I expect parents to watch their children and give them direction. If I know I am not going to be there, I will designate someone else to be in charge in my place, and I expect him or her to be treated with more respect than I am accorded. Yes. “Safety is of the Lord.” We pray with our eyes open.

Don’t offer too many choices. This comes into play almost every week with the dessert pastries. Open one or two things at a time and give the people in line a choice of those. Too many choices paralyze people and it certainly slows down the line. If someone spots something that is not opened yet and wants that instead, politely, but firmly tell them that this is what is available now. They may have some or not. This is ultimately fair. Why should the last person in the line have a more limited choice than the first?  This also applies to the hot food at times. If we have a big crowd, we may have to serve the hot food in series to make sure everyone gets at least something for firsts. If there is enough, perhaps people can get the other choice for seconds.

Helpers do not get special privileges. The guys or gals that help unload or help serve do dot get extras set aside for them. If they are in need, they may have the usual share. Leftovers are not leftovers until everyone, including stragglers, have been served. All volunteers are to serve out of an attitude and position of charity. We do not “hire” anyone to help, nor are we going to be party to cons. What we give, we give freely. None of us, regardless of our economic standing, gives to receive.

Cook healthy, not fancy. We don’t want to attract more people to our location, because we have the fanciest, tastiest food in the city on Thursday nights. We want to meet the needs of those who live there. A special treat every now and then is a good thing. Too often and it becomes an expectation that we may not be able to afford to meet. We had a mob scene the other week when Denise brought fried chicken. And it would not have mattered if she had 300 pieces to give away. Let’s concentrate on healthy. The green salad was a wonderful touch last night. So many men commented last month when the ladies brought the salad that it seemed like years since they had had a fresh, green salad. More fresh fruit and fresh vegetables are good. We should try to avoid anything that resembles fast food and work to serve slow food, like what used to be served around common, family, dinner tables. Think of Thursday nights as an extension of our kitchen tables to those who rarely get to sit at one.

Have Fun! Thursday nights (and the last Tuesdays) are the highlights of my weeks. I had a terrible day yesterday. I was feeling useless and depressed. It was one of those days where I just felt like quitting everything. At the same time, I was roasting the turkey, then making the soup, stocking the car (sans ladle) and working on icons. Then I drove down to the city. I was bummed that no one was riding shotgun with whom to share music, conversation and Altoids. Then I arrived at 1801 Vine and the fun began! Yes, there was chaos. Yes there were arguments. But there was plenty of food to go around, for everyone to get something then and more to take with them for Friday. All of the volunteers truly wanted to be there. And on a purely selfish note, I felt useful, (even though ladle-less).