I'll start with a late reflection of my first work day. Location: Broadway Presbyterian Church. This church, located in Manhattan, has both a soup kitchen and walk-in clinic available for all to use. There are nurses and doctors who donate their time to be there. It was a wet and rainy morning when we arrived at our location, so we dried ourselves off when we entered the building to start our shifts. Meanwhile, there was a line of people forming in the rain outside. I was pleased when the director, a man who had used the church’s services in the past, decided to open the doors early for the folks waiting in the pouring rain.
One belief at Broadway Presbyterian is that their guests (or clients as some organizations prefer) should be served their meals rather than coming forward to the servers in order to eat. When the doors opened and we were put to work, I was working quickly and tirelessly. Out of habit I started calling people “sir” and “ma’am.” One man--whose face I will never forget--stopped me and said, “Thank you. Thank you for being so polite.” He said this as if he has never received that kind of respect before. Afterwards, he asked me to start serving the other members of his table before him.
That situation made me think about how sometimes, when people are homeless or less fortunate than we are, we might not remember them as being our equal. For that man it was a very big deal for someone to look him in the eyes and address him with respect. It was an emotional moment for him, and I could tell by his body language and shy smile.
I’ll also remember him because after all the people were served, the servers had the opportunity to sit down and eat our meal, and he was one of the first people to approach our table. He said something to the effect of, “Thank you for serving us today. I know we can be rowdy!” He wasn’t kidding. Towards the end of lunch, some guests were becoming aggressive, requesting seconds which weren’t allowed, stealing food in tupperware containers, and picking fights with one another. It was difficult to be a server, and it was difficult to stay composed. It was difficult not to wonder why they were being so demanding when what they were being given was free, after all.
The man who thanked me earlier stopped at our table and inadvertently reminded me that there are people who are grateful, and it takes more than giving someone free food to change their life. Change is an ongoing process for many people and our servitude is a small but important part of that change. We should be sure to place our emphasis on internal change, and remember the faces of the people we serve. When I feel compelled to stop helping others because of another person’s ungratefulness, I try to remember the one person who cared, or the one person who thanked me, because one person can make a difference.
"Change" was my word of the month. April was when I committed to changing my lifestyle. My husband and I managed to pack one small carry-on rolling bag and one backpack with all our items. When we met up with other people from our group, they were very surprised to find that we were both able to pack a week's worth of clothes and supplies for the mission trip within two small bags. I was at first, too. I had two pair of jeans and 3 shirts that I rotated throughout the week. Having a washer and dryer in the building helped make that possible. I had also decided to cut down on the amount of makeup I wore, so it was a good week for that change, too.
We did some awesome sightseeing as well. I can't begin to list all the places we saw, and I'm confident in saying that we walked and used the metro so often that by the end of our trip it felt as though we lived there. We knew where to go for groceries, how to navigate, and the food truck owner's name. (He tried getting us to expand his truck to Milwaukee and work with him. His gyros were the best EVER.)
Although sightseeing was fun, it wasn't our main reason for going to New York. Going to New York to be in service was a humbling experience. We went on this trip after Lent and Easter, and I was going through a personal transformation, so those aspects made the trip even more successful for internal change. I'm glad we had the opportunity to go!