Shepherd's Table, Silver Spring, MD
Food has been a common theme to my service projects and yet each experience has proven to be unique in scope, quality, and experience. Today, Shepherd's Table was no different and, like so much else, I LOVED it!!
Housed in Progress Place in downtown Silver Spring (along with Interfaith Works), Shepherd's Table provides food, clothing, an eye clinic, and a resource center (telephone, mail, and shelter assistance) to our homeless community. During the week, Shepherd's Table serves 3 meals daily with brunch and dinner service on the weekends. Approximately, 100 guests are served at each meal -- cafeteria style with a nice dining area.
I felt like a restaurant employee today, greeted by a chef, given gloves and apron, instructed to wash my hands, and given a tour of the facility. Veteran volunteers took familiar positions on the serving line and in the kitchen and I secured my great spot -- behind the desserts!! By the time the doors opened for lunch, the room was filled with the smells of great food. On the day's menu was chicken tortellini, squash, salad, hot tea, and a selection of bread and pastries. Like I do at the fish counter, my "customers" pointed to the exact pumpkin muffin or cookie they wanted and I was happy to oblige. Most had a sweet tooth (like me) but others passed by with discipline saying they were trying to eat well, had diabetes, or didn't want to fill up on sweets. This is my favorite part -- interacting with people as they pass through and with my fellow volunteers during the down time. Each person has their own story and I feel so lucky when anyone will share theirs with me! The more seasoned volunteers were able to greet many of the guests by name. That must be special for someone who might otherwise feel alone or uncounted. There were even faces familiar to me as some had played bingo with me a few weeks before.
The line of guests looked like others I've served; they were a variety of skin colors, styles, and were of all ages. Two young people gave me great pause as they looked to be Jacob's age. They were put together very well, carried backpacks like college students, and made a special effort to show their manners and gratitude. I hope that their struggle passes as brief moment in a much brighter life. I was also struck by the site of a pregnant couple who strolled through the line with their toddler son. I tried not to stare as I didn't want my interest to be misconstrued as judgement, but I was extremely curious about this family. "Friends" came over to play with the baby during lunch and later, as I returned to my car, the couple seemed to be entertaining a bank of strollers while another couple was off to the side showing their affection for each other. This was an unusual playgroup!
The hour of service passed quickly and before signing out, I got the pleasure of passing through the kitchen and peaking in on what the chefs were working on. They were crafting food for a fundraising event at Discovery Communications. Just the food alone could have been the fundraiser as it looked to belong in a trendy restaurant. In one pan, a chef layered cauliflower steaks (something I had never seen),bacon, caramelized onions, thyme, and gruyere cheese. Another chef tossed a bright fruit salad filled with pomegranate seeds, thyme, and other exotic fruits. These chefs certainly inspired me to raise my game for dinner (tho it didn't happen)!
My Takeaways: (1) Notice, I write, "OUR" homeless community, not "THE" homeless community. This distinction is very important to me and should be to you too! It is OUR responsibility to look out for everyone in OUR community. If we take away the personal connection, it is too easy to turn our backs and push the 'fix' on someone else. This is OUR community; OUR problem to fix!; (2) Soup Kitchens are not all alike and certainly aren't all institutional-style serving boring food! These trained chefs at Shepherd's Table carefully choose their ingredients and create good-tasting and good-looking healthy food! The pride in their work carries over to the volunteers who serve it and give dignity to those in need. Shepherd's Table is fantastic!! (3) Volunteers continue to amaze and impress me. The woman next to me giving out the bread said that she's between jobs and looking for work. She is 'taking advantage' of this time by volunteering at Shepherd's Table whenever she can. Many people I know would simply complain, retreat, and/or do things for themselves during this time period. Instead, this woman chose to serve. Thank you!
So, I was so wrapped up in my service that I forgot to take pictures!! Since I'm coming back (alone and with my family over the Thanksgiving holiday), I will edit this post later with personal photos. Until then, look at this yummy food posted on their Facebook page: