This “serving snapshot” is from pre-pandemic times, of course—now our teams mostly serve pre-packaged meals (sack or box lunches), and guests aren’t coming inside to eat for the time being, but it still takes many volunteers, preparing healthy sack lunches, or making hot lunches and bringing them down to LINK for distribution, to continue this work. We miss the days when the LINK dining room was filled with guests, and the LINK board of directors is working on a reopening plan. If you’ve never volunteered with LINK before, we invite you to come and help us make a difference.
As I arrive at LINK, the trunk of my car filled with casseroles and large cans of vegetables and gallons of milk and bags of salad and boxes of brownies and cookies, all prepared and donated by people from my church, many guests are already there, hanging out on the sidewalk outside of the concrete stairs that lead down to the basement area where LINK meals are served (or were, in pre-pandemic times). Some of the guests offer to help to unload my car, and I gladly welcome their help. It’s half an hour before we begin serving the meals, and other members of my church group are already there, getting things ready.
Inside the kitchen and serving area, some are preparing salads, setting out desserts, pouring milk into plastic cups, or heating up canned vegetables on the stoves, reheating casseroles in the ovens, and making sure that everything is ready to serve. There is plenty of work to do.
I, and one other person from our group, don our aprons and begin filling the sinks for washing the mountain of trays, utensils and cups that will begin to pile up not long after the serving line is opened. Dishwashing is our job today.
The serving time arrives. As one of the pastors of our church group, I am summoned to the serving area, where several of the guests have begun to line up, and I lead the whole group, guests and servers, in a brief prayer of thanksgiving for our meal, for those who have prepared it, and for those who have come to share in it. And then the serving begins.
One server hands a tray and a little napkin-wrapped bundle of silverware to the next guest in line, and the servers on the food line dish up casseroles, hot vegetables, salads and fruit, and offer bread and butter, desserts and drinks. Everything seems to be working great. As one casserole dish is emptied, another is brought to replace it, and person by person, meals are served.
In the lull before the dirty dishes begin to arrive, I stand behind the servers on the food line and watch the guests come through. Young and old, male and female, all kinds of different people. Some look as though they probably slept outdoors the night before. Some are families. Others appear to be carrying all of their earthly possessions on their backs. Others look as if they’ve just come off a construction job site somewhere. One is dressed a little like a pirate. Some could easily be downtown shoppers stopping in for a quick lunch. At LINK, no questions are asked, and all are served.
As I watch the line of people come through, I can’t help but think that every person in that line, and every person who has come to serve the meal, has a story of their own, and a unique reason for being here in this place today. I think of something I once read somewhere—that everyone you meet is doing the best they can to deal with the life they have been given—it’s good to remember that.
Soon the dirty dishes begin to pile up, and I head for the sinks where my dishwashing colleague is already spraying trays—it’s time to get busy. As we work quickly to keep up, I hear many of the guests thank our group for the meal as they return their trays. My dishwashing buddy and I pre-wash and pre-rinse every tray, cup and utensil, and load and unload the dishwasher multiple times over the next 20 minutes or so, while the rest of our team puts leftovers away and cleans up the serving area.
Eventually we’re finished—the whole experience took about two and a half hours, and I am grateful for my team and their willingness to spend a small part of their day serving others. I’m grateful for LINK’s faithfulness to our community for so many years, and for the fact that there was plenty of food and plenty of love and good will to go around today.
–Rev. Doug Heacock, member of the LINK Board of Directors