It was a balmy day,with the sun shining and the mercury rising. My teammates and I walked into thehomeless shelter with bright smiles that concealed our increasing trepidation.What would we say? How would the guests react to us cooking a meal?
As wewalked down the seemingly endless corridor to the kitchen, our fears began toease as people shouted hello and greeted us with smiles. Soon, we were jokingwith each other as we were appointed our duties.
My partner and I welcomedthe frigid air of the walk-in refrigerator and considered ourselves lucky to getthis "cool" job. We soon got goose bumps on our bare legs and arms, andreturned to the warmth of the kitchen to thaw. After sorting through cartons ofvegetables and other perishable foods, we noticed an abundance of cheese. Westacked block after block of the tall, white towers high on theshelf.
Time wore on, and lunch time was beginning to roll around. We werefaced with the decision of what to make. It was only natural to think of grilledcheese sandwiches.
Now, I would call myself somewhat of a connoisseur ofgrilled cheese. After countless summer days behind a frying pan while thechildren I was babysitting anxiously awaited those golden squares, I felt I hadacquired enough expertise to pull this off. With that in mind, and my tendency totake on large projects without realizing time constraints, we left the silverworld of refrigeration and stepped back into reality.
A glance at theclock showed that we needed to inform our teammates of the decision. Everyone wasanxious to begin. Step one: head count. Assuming we could handle anything, I metthe manager's number of "100 sandwiches" with cool arrogance. "Onehundred sandwiches in 35 minutes? No problem!" Reality set in when the groupleader let out a gasp and shook her head. "Leave it to you to get us intosomething like this," she said, smiling.
The work began. The breadwas not pre-sliced, so someone had to try to cut the thick bakery loaves intoneat slices. Another volunteer buttered the bread and passed it quickly to thenext person, who added the cheese and tomato slice. The girl responsible forcooking the sandwiches soon had it down to a science, and the flipper tossed thesandwiches with enough enthusiasm and concentration to make one wonder if it wasa team sport. As the bread passed from station to station, I began to feel asthough I was on an assembly line, with efficiency and stopping hunger ourmission. The finished sandwiches were placed in warming pots to await the excitedguests.
A line began to form as a captivating smell permeated thebuilding. The guests seemed thrilled by the meal; we heard exclamations of joy asword spread about what was for lunch.
Then it hit me. I realized howfortunate I am, and how ungrateful I can be at times. I never have to worry aboutwhen my next meal will be, I just head to the refrigerator or cupboards. But hereI served measly grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato to the guests, and itprobably meant more to them than I could ever imagine.
One man especiallytouched me when he asked incredulously, "You made grilled cheese withtomato? Thank you so much. The last time we were lucky enough to have this wassix months ago."
The gratitude and humbleness I felt at that momentwas enough for me to thank the man for opening my eyes to the rest of the world.I may never see him again, but his excitement and appreciation is something Iwill never forget.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.