Stories of Kindness from Around the World

A Valuable Lesson Served at a Soup Kitchen

--by kathrynmarie, posted Aug 27, 2009

Every year while I was in high school we organized a class retreat. It always involved some sort of service component – usually going to an elementary school or helping out at a nursing home. The class would vote on the type of project we wanted to do, and then our Campus Ministry Coordinator would organize the project, transportation, dates, and specific location. For our senior year, our class voted to volunteer at a soup kitchen so our CM Coordinator, Mrs. Krupitzer, set up a date for us to go to Gleaners Food Bank.

We arrived on a Saturday morning, ready to prepare food and serve meals, wipe down tables, and clean dirty dishes. When we got off the bus, the food bank organizer took us on a tour of the facility. Then he turned around and said, “okay it’s time for lunch everybody!” Unbeknownst to us we would be eating a meal at the homeless shelter, shoulder to shoulder with homeless people.
We were surprised, to say the least. I suppose we saw our role that day as being service-providers and volunteers, the ‘haves’ coming in to help/serve the ‘have nots’. We didn’t really see ourselves on the same playing field. The relationship was not one of the privileged serving the underprivileged, but of the privileged serving the privileged, as we were eating the food as well. The general reaction was one of guilt and shame, that we had so much.
After the shock wore off, we grabbed our trays and went through the serving line just like everybody else, took our refried beans, slice of bread, piece of fruit, and side of raw carrots and then sat down at the table. The food bank organizer had instructed us to spread out across multiple tables instead of congregating altogether. We did this, and started to talk to people we were sitting next to. Everyone had very unique circumstances about how they came to be there. Some had mental or physical handicaps. Some were having difficulty finding work with the economy in recession at the time. Others were employed, but worked jobs that paid only minimum wage – hardly enough to finance a living. There were parents with children in tow who simply could not afford to feed the entire family on a limited income. The diversity of people we met was extensive.
Finally, near the end of the day, a scruffy-looking man went through the serving line. He caught eyes with one of my female classmates, as if he knew her. I’m sure they were both surprised to see one another. He sat down at her table, and they seemed like they were making small talk. When she got on the bus, at the end of the retreat, she seemed distressed. When we asked what was wrong, the girl mentioned that the man she sat with had been one of her father’s old friends, who they hadn’t seen in years. The man was well-educated and clean-cut when she had last seen him. It was strange to witness him so deteriorated.
A week later, the girl said she went home and told her family all about the experience. Her father was able to find this man a job at the automotive firm where he worked. And they invited the man, his wife, and his three children to come stay at their home until they were back on their feet.
The whole experience was fascinating to me. So often we think of homeless people as those who are less capable or lacking in education, or those who are lazy or have made poor decisions. We place them in a different category than us, and write them off, except when we can help in sometimes trivializing and patronizing ways. Often times, it’s people who are just like you and I, but who are a little down on their luck.

I will forever remember this valuable lesson.

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Readers Comments

Mike wrote: Wow, what an incredible story. It reminds me a lot of one that vivienne shared with us.

Vivienne told us her story a while back, about working at a food bank in reno. She ended up in a conversation w/ a woman there, and realized how similar they were in so many ways.

I hope you find it as inspirational as i do. Thanks for reading.
glorioski wrote: I like the description of the privledged serving the privledged. We are all privledgedto recieve , and as we say grace, we remember that to be thankful for the most basic blessings like our food, is one of the most authentic gratitudes of all. Opportunities like these stay with us in a much deeper way, and we are more inclined to give thanks!
Ningel Awuor wrote: I want to sincerely thank you for sharing such an eye opening experience. Its amazing what humility can do to once image and character. God bless you!

Lin wrote: Great lesson you shared. Thank you! Like many good novels, the ending struck me in a good powerful way that made my eyes moist- i was hoping somehting like would turn out in real life, just for once!

I believe in humanity, i believe in the goodness and kindness in people. Circumstances put people in situations, and i wish them good luck with strong positive will and action, blessed by the grace of god! So it's not the poor. Or the rich, in general; neither a class clash in the society, not always. Regardless of economics status, age, education level, prior experience, race, things could happen.

I also see the inner-connectness of people. When we people choose to act kindly, good things happen.
iferlamb wrote: What a life changing experience! It helps us realize we are all just a slip away from the circumstances these people find themselves in. We must never disrespect or judge them. All we can do is help in whatever way we can. Thank you for sharing the lesson.

Abdul Hayee Khoso wrote: Sad things are also part of life and the people who faces difficult times comes out through with lessons that help him in future i think if any person who doesnot loose courage and give time to pass away than that person is more benefitted than the blessed one, adversity creates and makes persons more than riches.
Veena wrote: Kudos to you!
Harriet wrote: This coicides with the lesson that i have learned thru the years, sad things can happy to anyone- educated, uneducated, smart, rich, poor, the boundaries are cut and dried anymore. We all seem one step away from possible job loss, homelessness, and other situations. We need to be aware and kind of everyone we meet. A great lesson to learn in high school and remember always.
Sanyogita wrote: Hey friend U n ur classmates have done superb job.I`m sure u had great lessons in soup kitchen.Hope ur class n all others had great time spending with each other.I too love to spend time with eldearls specially grandpa n grandma.But,I have none of them...
Modestobob wrote: Kathryn you have deep insights and have learned some truly wonderful experiences. When our children were in their teens, we went to serve the "homeless" and those on the streets Thanksgiving & Christmas dinners through the Salvation Army. We volunteered for several years and it was maybe the most important lessons our children could've learned at time in their lives. Thank you so much for sharing this story and expressing it so well. God bless your efforts! :) ModestoBob

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