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The Spirit of Beauty This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     Silver sequins fall from the washed-out sweater as Ilift it from a garbage bag and place it on a table next to a tiny pair ofoveralls. I continue to take clothing from donation bags, prompting the smell ofmothballs and mildew to seep into the air. Cast-off memories float through theroom like ghosts as dust rises from the old clothing. Soon, the bag is empty, andI walk across the soup kitchen to pick up another bag to sort.

This soupkitchen is one of the few places in my community where I can always find beauty,though most do not see it. Gritty debris gathers in the cracks of the pale greenlinoleum floor, and the food is served on an eclectic mix of plates, but truebeauty lies not in wall-to-wall carpeting or matching dinner sets. Beauty is inthe generosity and resilience of the people who make the soup kitchen come alive.Many volunteers have come to the soup kitchen every Sunday for years to bake andclean and serve warm meals to families. Their gifts of time and service make thesoup kitchen function.

The kitchen's beauty is more than the generosityof volunteers: it is also the buoyant spirit of the people who come here to eat.While many come week after week, more only use the kitchen in times of need untilthey become secure enough to feed themselves.

One single mother of fourchildren came to America from the Dominican Republic only a year ago. Speaking noEnglish, without relatives or a job, within five months she was able to graduatefrom the soup kitchen. Her perseverence gives the soup kitchen its beauty andtriumph. This triumph does not just come from financial success.

Manysuccess stories have nothing to do with money. One patron runs a home in herhouse for elderly, mentally ill people. She makes little money herself and so sheand her four charges come to eat with us every Sunday. One is a woman who had notspoken for so long - eleven years - that her relatives thought she had lost herability. After six months, she was helping make pot roast when she said quitematter-of-factly: "Where I come from, we put beer in our pot roast."

I try not to show my feelings when I volunteer, but when I heard thatstory, I felt tears well up in my eyes. Within human struggles lies the essenceof beauty, and the victory here is the epitome of humanachievement.

Beyond the beauty of the people who serve or eat at the soupkitchen is the undefinable grace which pervades its entire atmosphere. I seebeauty in every piece of clothing I sort: brightly colored sweaters from the'80s, the pants with belts still attached, and even the lone sandal, dirtied froma summer's use, radiate beauty. They lived once through the experience of theirformer owners, and here, they are reborn to grace another body and cast theircolors on another face.

Each Sunday, diners line up at the clothingtables to receive the donations. At first, I was horrified to see peoplescrabbling for used clothing, but my view has changed. Although it may bedisconcerting to see people pushing against each other, their eagerness istestimony to the truth that what is trash to one person is treasure to another.Sharing, recycling, and giving are all forces which drive the soup kitchen in itsbeautiful quest.




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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