|Volunteers at Haley House|
Most of my readers know that my son Max lives in and works at a soup kitchen in Boston. I'd like to devote today's post to something he wrote recently about a day at Haley House:
"Breakfast at the soup kitchen this morning was like any other morning. We cracked the doors open at 5:30 am and were greeted by a dozen hungry guys who had either spent the night outside or had been anxious to leave the overnight shelter as early as possible. The men sat down to chat with each other or read the paper and sip some freshly brewed coffee. Meanwhile, folks in the kitchen got right to work cutting up vegetables and scrambling eggs. Breakfast in the soup kitchen always started like this.
Volunteers in the soup kitchen find out about Haley House from a variety of sources. Google ‘Soup Kitchen in Boston’ and we’re the first result. Some of our volunteers are neighbors who believe in the mission of Haley House. Others are college students who need to satisfy community service hours or just want to do something to help other people. There’s another group that comes to Haley House not because they want to volunteer, but because they’re hungry.
The actual kitchen at Haley House is separated from the dining room only by a small table on wheels. There’s no real separation between the two areas, which means anyone can freely cross what would ordinarily be an imposed barrier in any other soup kitchen. The easy access to the kitchen occasionally beckons one of the guests to come back and help out. After all, what better way to show one’s appreciation for the meal than to assist with food preparation or clean some dishes? No experience necessary –all you need is a hairnet and a quick trip to the hand washing station.
One of the volunteers today used to have a reputation for being irritable and unfriendly. That was before he started volunteering a few weeks ago. He was a guest in the soup kitchen for years before that. I wasn’t sure what changed or when, but I admired his hard work in the kitchen and appreciated the positive attitude he brought with him this morning. On his way out the door, we slapped hands and I told him thanks for his hard work. He responded, ‘no problem,’ and told me that volunteering has been an important and positive thing for him recently.
I didn’t know much about this guy or what circumstances led him to be homeless. Unprovoked by me, he started telling me about his heroin problem. He explained that using heroin all day will make someone sick to their stomach, exhausted, and irritable the next day — unless another fix could be procured early in the morning. But his dealer didn’t start selling until noon or later, so he was left sitting in the back of the soup kitchen to cope with ‘the kick.’
He told me about his recent decision to check into the methadone clinic, despite the harsh judgment of other users who looked down on people who went to the clinic. He was sick of being sick, and methadone could help keep the kick away. And besides, unlike heroin, methadone would help keep him out of jail where he’d get the kick anyways.
He told me that he felt welcomed by the other volunteers in the kitchen. They treated him with dignity and respect that he didn’t get on the street. For that reason, he wanted people to call him by his real name, not his street nickname that he associates with heroin users and other people who exert a negative influence on him. He wants to keep coming to volunteer because it makes him feel important. I think he’ll probably be working with us for a long time.
I know other homeless guys who also feel dignified and important when they volunteer in the soup kitchen. Hearing about this guy’s story today reaffirmed the significance of their role in the kitchen. That’s why I’m glad that breakfast at the soup kitchen this morning was like any other morning –fulfilling for people on both sides of the serving counter, regardless of how they came to Haley House."