Food Teams Rock!
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” –J. R. R. Tolkien
By Paula Heath, Teen Feed Advocate
Today was July 3. The menu was bacon cheeseburgers with mustard, mayonnaise, and ketchup, corn, and chocolate chip cookies. Last Saturday night, the menu was a full Thanksgiving dinner with real turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and yam casserole with marshmallow topping. Oh, and the most amazing pumpkin bread.
Teen Feed serves meals to between 40 and 70 homeless youth, aged 13 to 25, seven nights a week. There is sufficient food for everyone to have seconds. There are 50 food teams, so how on earth does all that food come together? It’s actually a very orchestrated process, with written instructions, to-do’s, and an assigned food team leader. Briefly, each food team is responsible for their menu, food purchasing, preparation, serving, and cleanup, including taking out the garbage and transporting leftovers to the shelter. On meal night, they will each spend about 3 1/2 hours at the site.
I have been an admiring observer of the food teams on the nights I volunteer as an advocate for about a year now. Here is what I would like you to know about them.
Without exception, each member of the team is focused on getting the job done well and on time because they know how much the youth depend on the 7 PM start. (Many youth will not have had either breakfast or lunch.) Everyone has a role. They’re chopping or shredding or assembling or cleaning up as they go. It’s noisy; the industrial dishwasher is almost always running, so the laughter is loud, and instructions are shouted out. Creating a tasty meal is important to the team because, simply, no one wants to disappoint. Each will serve a portion of the meal, so they will come face-to-face with their “customer.”
They serve from behind a table or counter, smiling, making polite queries about which menu item or how much, and then passing the plate to the next food team member, who repeats the process for their station, as the young men and women move slowly down the line. There is no slopping food onto the plate; precisely the opposite: care is taken not to spill, and to be respectful and pleasant. There is a bubbly murmur of voices, reminding me of the sound after a soccer game when the teams pass each other for a congratulatory high five and all say together: “good game good game good game.”
The team knows that food creates a comfortable, homey environment – even if the guests are “homeless.” And they take this responsibility seriously. Given this responsibility, the time commitment, the physical work, and the importance of genuine interaction with this population, who are these foodie volunteers?
They are your neighbors; members of your church; students from your local high school or college; new US citizens; young working people; retirees; entire families; affinity groups; and folks who work together at local businesses.
Why did they choose this program and this type of volunteerism? They hope to provide some comfort and happiness to those in need, with something they’ve made themselves. And, I think they intuitively know the truth behind the Latvian proverb: “A smiling face is half the meal. “