Earlier this month, a group of my co-workers and I served dinner at Homeless Connections. We arrived at 4:00 PM and reviewed the written instructions that were provided to us for the evening meal. We served fried chicken donated by a local favorite, Van Abel’s restaurant, as well as rice, mixed vegetables, and peaches. Our group divided up, with some of us focusing on getting the dining room ready for dinner while others got the cooking underway. As part of the dinner service each night, the volunteers make bag lunches for residents who request them for the following day. Sandwiches, fruit, snacks and a drink are packed in brown bags, which are then labeled and put into the refrigerator for the next day.
When the food was prepared, we transferred it to the serving table and stood ready with serving spoons in hand.
Dinner service started at 5:30 PM with women, children and families eating first and the men following at 6:00 PM. We chatted with the residents as we filled their plates with food. My co-worker’s 10-year-old daughter, Ella, had the special job of handing out homemade cookies for dessert. When dinner was finished, we refrigerated the left-overs, washed and put away the dishes, and cleaned up the dining room. We served a total of 38 adults and children, which was a bit under the nightly average of 45 residents.
We couldn’t help but feel that our efforts had made a difference. After dinner, when asked how dinner was, a child of one of the residents smiled and said: “Really good; my belly is so full!” My co-workers shared these feelings about the experience:
“Serving dinner at Homeless Connections was one of my most memorable experiences of 2017. The experience served as an excellent reminder that everyone needs a hand at some point in their lives. I was so happy to be able to bring a smile to another community member and found the entire experience to be extremely rewarding.“
“It was a great team experience! I would not hesitate to spend an evening like that again. Our hearts were warm and appreciative that we were able to spend an evening with the residents—who were kind and grateful that we were there!”
Needless to say, I think we’ll be serving dinner at Homeless Connections again very soon! If you are also interested, below is some information that may be helpful to you.
- Who should I contact with questions? Contact Samantha Uitenbroek, who is Homeless Connections’ Volunteer & Special Events Coordinator.
- How many people should I bring to serve? You’ll need a crew of 6-8 adult servers.
- Are there any requirements that need to be met before I can start serving meals? You’ll need to complete a volunteer application and interview, consent to a background check, and go through orientation. At least one group member will need to train in the kitchen in advance by shadowing an experienced group of servers. Usually, this can all be accomplished within one month.
- Can my kids help too? Children age 7 and up are welcome to help in the kitchen with an adult. In fact, my two teenagers (ages 14 and 17) and my co-worker’s 10-year old daughter helped our group.
- Can I bring food to serve? Groups can bring a prepared meal with them or can serve a meal from Homeless Connections’ supply of prepared meals. Groups can also bring parts of the meal with them, such as fresh fruit or salad. Our group brought home-made cookies for the dessert.
- 4:00 PM is too early for me; can I still help out? Servers can stagger arrival and departure times with part of the group arriving at 4:00 PM and leaving earlier than 7:00 PM. You can also volunteer to help serve snacks from 7:00 to 9:00 PM any day of the week or weekend breakfast.
- Are there other ways to help Homeless Connections? Of course! Participate in the Giving Tree campaign that is currently underway to collect items needed for the shelter’s operations. Purchase a McCarty Law cookbook (see last week’s blog article), as all cookbook proceeds will be donated to Homeless Connections this holiday season. If you prefer to make a monetary donation, visit Homeless Connections’ website or contact Beth Servais Vanderloop, Community Relations Director.
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