This morning at 6:30 am. 5 volunteers from Brunswick Street United Church showed up to serve 72 women and men, most of whom live in shelters close to The Mission. Two church volunteers were already there, since 5:30 am, Heather and Brian. Heather is the Chair of the Brunswick Street United Church’s Council, a role she takes very seriously. When the rest of us showed up the coffee was brewing, a few of the guests were already in the dining area and a spirit of hospitality was in the air. As a volunteer I felt as welcome and valued as the guests. I was eager to get going and Heather knew exactly what I could do to be helpful. There hash browns had to be cooked, sausages placed in the pan to go in the oven, there were eggs to be broken, scrambled and lifted onto plates, toast to be made and buttered, juice to be made, salt and pepper and ketchup to be placed on the tables, jam and peanut butter to put in bowls, cutlery and napkins to be readied, plates and mugs to be reached for and placed in an accessible location. There were more than enough jobs for all seven of us. And Heather was ready to give us direction, what to do, what came first and deadlines to be attended to (7 am start time). None of us felt overwhelmed, we did not stand back and watch Heather do everything, nor did Heather just stand back and watch us, she was up to her elbows in eggs, sausages and later dishwater.
I love the way Heather affirms the volunteers but is clear it is all about the guests, they come first and their needs are our number one priority. The guests expect a hearty, hot and complete meal by 7 am and Heather is committed to meeting that goal. There was no panic (that would likely be my style if I was leading the effort), no finger-pointing about who wasn’t doing things right, no cutting off guests who poked their heads in to ask about special dietary needs. Instead there was respect, efficiency and joy.
That last word is underrated in the planning of volunteer initiatives. I find that the one thing leaders often forget is that both volunteers and guests value the spirit of joy when something like a Mission breakfast takes form. There was singing in the kitchen, laughter, and a delight in the company of friends. But I need to point out you simply cannot have this joy without the planning coming first. Having things well in hand gives us all the freedom to open up to each other’s fun.
Some of the guests were grumpy and when I served three people at one table, forgetting the fourth in my rush to get to all of the tables, the fourth overlooked man was none too happy with my service. But as a volunteer it is important to get over yourself, it is not “all about you” and frankly this man does not owe me or anyone anything for a meal. It is a sin that in this land of plenty people need to go to shelters and Missions for free meals. Lord knows what indignities and disrespect this man has encountered. I hustled my butt into the kitchen for his meal and served it with a smile. But most of the guests were genuinely appreciative of this meal and said so. I noted that when they poked their heads into the kitchen to express their thanksgiving they looked at all seven of us, they knew it was a team effort.
There were a few who heard that I was a Minister and asked if this was true. I said yes, one never knows if people need someone to talk to, someone whom they can share their burdens with. But frankly most who need to share that at the Saturday breakfast will turn to the familiar and warm face of Elna, a trusted and beloved Mission volunteer. I don’t much like the fuss that sometimes comes with being recognized as a Minister. But one thing did swell me with pride and joy, when a few of the guests asked, “Is that teenager your daughter?” “Yes”, I responded. And THAT was the highlight of the morning.