My Morning At The Daily Bread
Parking in the church lot a few blocks away, I hustled past the construction and down the cobblestone towards the yellow clapboard building on the corner. It was a few days before Thanksgiving and the sun was doing little to fight off the early morning chill.
My steps instinctively slowed as I neared the crowd, sifting through boxes, some holding steaming cups of coffee and discussing the weather. Pulling my coat tight, I climbed the steps to the Daily Bread, finding the front door unlocked.
Inside, I stood at the door, still fiddling with my coat and waiting for someone to notice me. Apron clad workers milled about, setting place mats on tables, rolling plastic silverware, sorting through the boxes of donations.
It was my first day on the job, my only day on the job really, and I tried to take in the sights and smells with the keen sense of the writer I’m trying so hard to become. I’d always wanted to volunteer, but never actually made the effort. Now as I’m writing a story in which my main character volunteers at a soup kitchen it was time for some research.
I figured, why not actually live it instead of write about it?
There was much to take in. Like the colorful mural of our city blanketing the wall between the windows. I followed the branches of the large tree with my eyes, stretching over the town below and topped by an angel with wings spread, as though protecting those under her. near my feet were stacks of non perishable lunches line the doorway, Bulletins covered the wall wall to my right, ranging from child safety, nutrition, first aid and other information about staying warm in the coming months. But it was the activity that grabbed me, the hustle and bustle in the kitchen, the pots and pans clanking and banging transport from counter to burner. The doors opened at 11, it was 8:30 am.
From The Lynchburg Daily Bread Website:
- Serves 365 days a year
- Everyone is welcome
- In 2012, 53,313 meals were served
- More than 98% of food is donated from local colleges, grocery stores, restaurants, etc.
- In 2012, volunteers contributed 20,265 hours – a value of $457,989.
“Hi, Pete? I’m Kara.”
I snapped out of my mental note taking and shook hands with Kara, who I’d been emailing back and forth about volunteer opportunities. She stood in the doorway of a tiny office, somewhat frazzled but seemingly on top of things.
“Yes, nice to meet you,” I said as we shook hands. Introductions were short lived as a teenager inquired about the soy milk in the walk in cooler downstairs. I imagined her job, as fulfilling as it may be, is one of constant and rapid decision making. That and working miracles with a budget.
“So let’s see,” she said, leading me to the kitchen where I hung my coat and was tossed an apron—which I promptly strapped on inside out.
My first task was to sort and label the cookies and pastry containers that had been donated by the local grocery store and then stock the shelves for exiting guests to take. I began my job, inspecting each container like I was an airport TSA.
"Just toss the ones that have been opened.”
I looked up to find a burly, fifty-something man who introduced himself as John. I followed John’s lead and, after some warming up, he rattled off stories ranging from military service to teaching alternative schools in North Carolina. I carefully quizzed him and Kendra— another regular. How many come per day? Around 150. Is the Daily Bread opened year round? Yes. Who are the biggest donors? The hospital, Kroger, The Fresh Market.
Next I was paired with the teenagers to cart the crates of milk, tea, juices, from the storage cellar. I was amazed at the stock pile, all donated by local businesses. Then it was on to table setting, fetching ice buckets, and otherwise just staying out of the way, soaking up the diligence of the regulars readying the place for lunch service.
By the time 10am rolled around I counted nearly 20 volunteers, many of us standing around and looking to help. But too many is better than too few. I was assigned to the kitchen, where I met the crew and began prepping for my job tending to the salad.
The donations weren’t just limited to food service. Two construction workers installed giant blinds at each of the four full length windows, a cheery lady waved to us while dropping off poinsettias, a box of gloves and scarves by an elderly couple. I was just beginning to realize how such needed charities are able to operate on shoe string budgets—through the compassion of everyday people.
We gathered around the tables for a quick pep talk as Carl—an executive of some sort in another life, asked who was new to serving. He explained that guests would be shown a seat and must remain seated. They would be instructed to raise their hands for refills or seconds. Two servers per table. There were 8 tables. I guessed that the dining hall held somewhere around fifty or sixty guests at a time. I had no idea so many people were hungry.
I glanced at the door. Outside, an elderly lady rubbed her hands together for warmth. Carl asked one of the guys to let her in.
We’d be opening early today.
The doors opened and I took my place in the kitchen. The floors were worn and stained with grit and grime from the constant use. The industrial counters and stoves were all donated, the large pots, the spices that lined the rack on the wall, and the meat, bread, and salad, where I was assigned. I scooped a spoonful of premade salad onto a plate, careful not to spill and slow down the line. By 11 we were nearing capacity and I found myself hustling to keep pace.
I tried my best to keep pace with the regulars. The kitchen was held together by JoJo, a no nonsense woman with a skeptical eye. I tried to stay out of her gaze; I didn’t want to get fired on my first day on the job. Maybe in her 50’s; she had little patience for those who weren’t appreciative of her efforts. But she kept things humming. Balancing things was Dana, a slight yet tireless volunteer whose light demeanor and attitude kept spirits high and bouncing.
The menu was a savory smelling roast beef, potatoes and carrots, a side salad with a slice of bread. It all smelled delicious, but my hopes were shot after I saw the sign reading that the food was for guests only. Peeking into the hall I found the mix of people to be old and young, both black and white, and no different than the people serving the meals.
The vegetable medley went fast, and was soon replaced with some sort of cloudy concoction that Dana eyed suspiciously.
“They may be called butter beans but I’m pretty sure there are supposed to be more beans than butter," she said, stirring up a few beans floating under a simmering yellow film. "Lord have mercy. You’re going to give someone a coronary.”
But the beans went too, as I quickly learned that a regular Tuesday afternoon brought many more hungry people than I would have liked to have seen in my small town. Then I started thinking about all of the small kitchens in all of the small towns, and the many volunteers it takes to feed those in need all across the country. The world. Every day people are hungry.
“Salad Man, we need two more plates.”
My sentiments notwithstanding, I fell back into a rhythm, still in awe of these everyday volunteers—the engine that kept the train churning all year long. While it felt good to donate a few hours of my time, it was those day in and day out regulars who were inspiring. Because I’d found it harrowing, what seems like a growing sense of apathy and disconnect among people today, myself included. But for a morning at least, I was wrapped in the glow of good doers, those who wake up each morning and lend a hand to help those in need for no reason other than it’s the right thing to do.
A little after twelve, I cautiously alerted JoJo that I had to get cut out, almost ashamed until she smiled and thanked me for coming. I turned in my apron, getting in my car smelling of food and basking in the compassion from the kitchen. I hadn’t done anything earth shattering that morning,there were plenty of volunteers who would have gladly stepped in and done my menial tasks without missing a beat.
But it wasn’t about me. It was about the good in people’s hearts and the everyday heroes that are in that kitchen working those miracles and healing the world just a little bit. One meal at a time.
- Lynchburg Daily Bread | A Charitable Organization Providing Central Virginians Hot Meals For Those I
Lynchburg Daily Bread | A Charitable Organization Providing Central Virginians Hot Meals For Those In Need Since 1982