The Next Big Thing This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   At 2:53 p.m. on the 22nd of December, my father decided that I needed to fulfill the service requirement for the National Honor Society immediately. He quickly dialed the number of a neighbor who had been through the process the previous year to ask what she had done. She mentioned the options of insulating a house for Habitat for Humanity or going to the Salvation Army soup kitchen within thirty-five minutes. With no time to think, I went along with the latter.

Arriving at 3:18 p.m., my father got out of the car and trudged through the packed snow to the Army's back door where he promptly got me a job as a volunteer. A helpful man told me that the "first big thing we have to do" was to set up the tables. I unfolded sixty-four aging chairs around four tables which had been covered with newsprint instead of a tablecloth. The next "big thing" was the setting of the silverware on the aforementioned tables. The man dragged out a plastic container holding the stainless-steel utensils. I was told to lay out the silverware while he put out the flower vases and candles to decorate the sparse room.

That job done, I had a few minutes to look around the room. It was a small dining room painted a shade of mildew blue with a large print of Jesus hanging on the wall adjacent to the kitchen door. Opposite this door was a wooden clock which had a plastic wreath dangling from it. On the far wall stood a old upright piano and a plastic Christmas tree dressed up in sales-item tinsel and broken blue bulbs.

Then the first people started to arrive. The first to enter was a fairly normal looking young man, whom no one would ever think was unable to provide a meal for his two young daughters. It was a sad sight, and it seemed that people were embarrassed to be there. The littlest children did not see any stigma attached to this place and gleefully frolicked while their parents tried to quiet them.

Meanwhile, back inside the kitchen, I was introduced to the fine art of doughnut stacking. I was given a huge crate of day-old doughnuts and told to place them vertically on a tray in four rows by sorting through the box to find the ones which had not already turned to bread crumbs. Dinner was served and the people filed up to the portable cart which held the evening's meal. The Reverend said grace, then they began to eat.

Then I was given the job of guarding the Bread Room. There was a collection of day-old bread from the supermarkets around the city. I was told by the older gentleman (who devoted much of his retirement to helping out) that the patrons are an awfully fussy lot. They will not take any bread that has not been pre-sliced and will not take long bread, round bread or rolls.

And so, I was left in the little room which overlooked the kitchen and dining halls through open doors. The room itself was no bigger than an average walk-in closet and contained two refrigerators, a freezer from the 1950s and a two tables. Piled on the freezer and tables and floor were bags of bread: French, Italian, white, rye, etc.

At last the hour had come - 5 p.m. - time to open the Bread Room. Already there was a line waiting for a turn to take some bread. It felt good to see that my efforts to help were paying off as I gave out the bread.

By now, the evening was over and I was stacking chairs atop the tables and mopping the floor of milk that had been spilled. The small, cramped hall was empty. The dishes had been washed and stacked in their cupboards. I had him sign my which said saying I had been there and helped out.

It was sad to note just how many people actually need assistance in the little city of Auburn, NY (up to one hundred each week). It is sadder to note that only the five volunteers I saw there that night are willing to help. Imagine, if you will, what could be done if only more people would help, lending time and effort to better the lives of those less fortunate. The world would be just a little bit better for it. fl


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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