With Thanksgiving nearly upon us, I wanted to use my column this month to help out at a soup kitchen, with the various volunteers who arrive early five days a week to help feed the people in need.
To have enough time preparing the lunch meal, workers show up at 9:30 a.m. at St. Anthony's Center, 125 E. Willow St. When I arrived, I was handed an apron and told to help with the fruit.
Already there were several people assembled, starting to wash the fruit and display it on plates in the small back room that seemed to be mostly counter space and sinks.
Sister Henry Lambert cuts turkey Thursday at St. Anthony’s Center.
Sun-Gazette reporter and “Messy Business” columnist Alyssa Murphy washes grapes and places them into bowls in the kitchen at St. Anthony’s Center.
Every day is a guess for how many people will show up at the center, which makes it difficult to decide how salads and hot meals to prepare. Sister Henry Lambert, the woman in charge, said for days 40 salads were too many, and when they cut back on the amount, more than 60 people showed up that day.
I was given bunches and bunches of red and green grapes to sort through, wash and arrange on a tiny plate.
My first-ever job was at a Subway, so I knew all about how fast people have to move to get the meals done quickly. The big difference from my job years ago was how happy everyone seemed to help at the center. Sondra Beach and Barbara Gallagher made jokes as they went about their work, talking about a magazine article and where to get their hair done.
I also learned how to make a sub presentable at my first job, so I thought I could figure out how to put some grapes on a plate, but I learned some tricks how to make it more appealing: hide the stem and find a balance between too many and not enough.
All of the food we prepared was donated from local markets, so in addition to not knowing how many people will want lunch, there also is the challenge of not knowing how much food will be available.
While I did not get to stay long enough to help serve, Gallagher said there always is something to do at the soup kitchen. Most of the people who come for a meal come right away, so as they leave, helpers already are beginning to clean.
Helping in a soup kitchen isn't the most glamorous way to start a morning. There are a variety of smells to entice you to start your lunch early. I ended my shift with purple stains all over my fingers. The tasks can be monotonous. Yet I know from my time volunteering at a soup kitchen in Ohio years ago just how grateful people can be, and that made it worth it for me.
After I finished preparing my part of the meal, Gallagher said I would be ready to start cooking my own meals now, since I told her I mostly rely on things I can microwave. I don't think I'm quite there yet, but maybe that can be something to consider for my next messy business column.