After spending a few days in Napa to see how the other half lives, Dave and I did the same again last night – but this time with the other “other half.” Together with members from our synagogue, we cooked and served a meal for about 250 homeless people on the outskirts of Philadelphia. This is something that I have always wanted to do but have never gotten my act together to find the right opportunity. I was thankful when the call for volunteers went out – and jumped at the chance to join the caravan.
Contrary to what people say, there IS indeed such a thing as a stupid question. I know this because there was a bunch swirling in my head as prepared to make the trip. And I know they were stupid because I was too embarrassed to ask things such as:
- What does one wear to a soup kitchen?
- Will the people there hate me?
- Do we get to eat the food too?
- If not, is it bad form to go for sushi afterward?
- Will I leave feeling good about myself or completely ashamed for all that I have?
Of these questions, the last was the most perplexing. I wondered if standing among people who were so less fortunate than me would heap a gigantic portion of survivor’s guilt on my plate.“Look at the over-entitled suburban Mom who thinks she’s so virtuous because she serves tuna noodle casserole to people other than her family… for the first time in her 41 years of existence… while her kids are at overnight camp… before she goes to the spa with her mother for the weekend.”
Of course, this was me projecting ill will. Everyone there was extremely nice and grateful – just as I was grateful to be there.
An interesting moment of truth came for me at the beginning of the evening when some of our customers asked for an extra plate of food – or a double serving. My knee jerk reaction was the same as if my boys had asked for what seemed like more food than anyone could reasonably eat; I was suspicious of their motives and tempted to ask them to first finish what they have and then come back for seconds. Luckily I thought with my brain – not my knee – a quickly reminded myself where I was. These people are not being gluttonous or greedy. They are being hungry and who gives a flying you-know-what how much tuna casserole they eat. And I piled it on for them.
The privileged appreciate food by selecting it, savoring it, and sometimes even denying ourselves of it. The underprivileged appreciate food by just plain eating it.
We came home to find the dog sprawled on the sofa in her own little food coma and realized that she has a better life than many of the people we served that evening. But upon further analysis I came to the conclusion that my dog has a better life than most of the people we saw in Napa. But that is for another post.
So within a week Dave and I saw how one half lives – and then the other. Here in the middle, I feel a strong desire to return soon to just one of the two. And along with the tuna, this time we’ll bring the kiddos.