.
I pulled up the narrow driveway and saw them: a crowd of hungry people, patiently waiting, lined up around the building. Navigating the alley which led me to a tiny parking lot, my eyes met with many of them as I smiled, waving hello, while mouthing “Happy Easter” to the little ones hiding behind their mother’s legs. My heart thumped rhythms between pity and fear, and as I took a deep breath, was unnerved by a thought.
.
“Are you taking your purse?” I asked my friend Rebecah, already knowing I was bringing mine.
.
“No, I’m just going to lock it up in the car.”
.
I wanted to follow Rebecah’s lead and leave my purse behind, but caution didn’t allow it.
I felt a little guilty for thinking the worst – for judging the people in the soup kitchen line, thinking they were criminals. I wanted to believe in their good hearts, but what did I know? Maybe the clichés were right. Maybe these people were all drug addicted savages who would go to any lengths for their next fix. Maybe. But what about the children? Surely the parents of these adorable kids were good people. Who knows, for sure. In the end, I followed my gut.

“I’ll just take my wallet.”

As we met the organizers and signed in for our volunteer shift, Rebecah and I got to work. I found a secluded spot under my side of the counter, put down my wallet and picked up a serving spoon.

I normally spend Easter with friends, sipping wine and sharing laughs over a home cooked meal. This year would be different. Back in January, I decided to get more involved with my community, follow through with wanting to make a difference, so I signed up as a volunteer for Someone Cares Soup Kitchen.

The task seemed easy enough; spend a couple of hours serving the needy – do my time, and get out of there. I’d meet some new people and earn Brownie points with God.

I grew up doing the church thing, and make a joke now that I’m a “failed Catholic”. In all seriousness, my faith in God has never been stronger, but there are too many things about organized religion that I don’t agree with to limit myself to one way of thinking, so I keep my options open to all venues of faith. I’m an equal opportunity child of God. I pray, meditate (thanks, Dalai Lina!), and above all, try to be a good person. That last one isn’t easy, especially when you’re a recovering narcissist; another reason why I opted to volunteer this Easter. I’m trying to make it less about me – at least some of the time.

So I offered up what was in my tray, exchanging smiles with hundreds of strangers. Some were so little they couldn’t see over the counter, so fellow volunteers (dressed as Easter bunnies) held the kids up so they could see the food.

Some of the men were my age and dressed in hats, dark glasses and barely spoke. I immediately figured they were hiding, perhaps in shame of just the fact they were there. Then there was the woman who looked my mother’s age, with a goiter so large my stomach twisted at the sight.

As time ticked by, the people kept coming. Some came up for seconds and thirds. And with each person, I looked in their eyes and saw they had a story. I cast judgement aside. I prayed. I prayed for their health and happiness, as well as my own. I prayed with gratitude for so many things in my life I never want to take for granted.

It’s so easy to get caught up with the why me’s of life, especially when you live in a sea of affluence like I do, on the outskirts of Newport Beach. Those Real Housewives are real. Living a mere twenty minutes from the soup kitchen, I couldn’t help but notice the contrast between the have and have-nots.

After our shift, Rebecah and I went for lunch, then I did some grocery shopping. I was pretty tired when I got home, and the last thing I wanted to do was cook and prep my lunches for the work week.  But I kept thinking about those people in the food line. I kept thinking if they had a fridge full of food, they wouldn’t think twice about cooking. So I played some tunes, sang in my kitchen, and got to work.

I always knew volunteering was a way to help people less fortunate. What I didn’t plan on was how this act of kindness would circle back to me – like some heartfelt boomerang – helping me recognize just how fortunate I am.

3 comments

  1. About a year ago I took my two oldest boys to the soup kitchen to work. My first born's eyes were like saucers when we walked in – like being poor was a disease he might catch! Then I looked around to find my second born, and there he was, with a tray in his hands, standing in line with the others ready to get his dinner! He didn't see any difference between him and the others or see that the food was any less appetizing. Same mom, same values, but each boy takes in life so differently! Amazing…(and thanks for the sweet nod!) xo Lina

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