Bristol Lodge Soup Kitchen
by M. W., Weston, MA
At 730 Main Street in Waltham, a small, white, Congregational church stands awkwardly on a plot of land. On either side of the narrow building lie towering infrastructures that were newly built to fit the public's modern needs. However, beneath the white church, people are truly in need, and are being helped. Americans are considered to be "materialistic" people, but they strongly believe in helping others who are down and out. Because of their ingenuity and the fact that they care about the well being of others, they have effectively established soup kitchens like the Bristol Lodge.
In the rear of the church a small flight of steps lead underground to the basement. Even though this basement space is rented and no one funds the kitchen, the mahogany door has lay ajar for twelve years because of citizens' donations. On the door's facade a small, welcoming sign, with blue letters, reads "Bristol Lodge Kitchen Open 3: 30 to 5: 30 For Meals."
A man in layered clothes descended through the passageway while wiping his filthy hands on his lettered shirt. In the dark room were numerous rectangular eating tables with accompanying fold-out chairs, all occupied. Situated at the front of the room was one large table where food was displayed on plastic trays, and next to it lay serving utensils. The men and women in the room "shot the shit" as Bob, a regular attendant in the kitchen, called this type of gossiping. Later he realized his slang and, to be politically correct, he stated again, "The conversations we have are small talk. We like to tell each other how our day went, you know, the basics." A man who insisted upon being called Uncle Al leaned back in his chair and interrupted, "We consider this happy hour when we all gather to talk. Here we have established genuine relationships between people. We are all equal and thus there is no competition for material goods."
John Sheuter, the man who runs the kitchen, told me that the Guest Quarters Suite Hotel, Burger King and the Chateau Restaurant donate their leftover food to the kitchen. As a result, on the large serving table were elegantly decorated pies for dessert in contrast to common Styrofoam milk-cups and plastic silverware. Peter, a master carpenter, in appreciation for everyone's food donations, commented, "If it weren't for the good people and the local businesses who donate their time and their support we would have no place to go and eat."
John Sheuter said a prayer before letting the men and women get into the dinner line. First, he asked for complete silence and told everyone to remove his hat. Only then did he repeat the prayer from memory, "Dear Lord, thank you for this food." A man from the back of the room yelled jokingly, "Alleluia!" This ended the prayer abruptly and they quickly got into line. At the food stations, each adult extended their plate in gratitude waiting for the servers to "pile it on." A woman walked through the line slowly so she would not drop anything from her plate. She picked up a cup of milk winking at the worker saying, "A double shot of this will straighten you right up." A man in his thirties went through the line a second time, and anxiously grabbed a donut saying, "One for the road" as he stuffed it in his worn pocket and shuffled off.
As I surveyed the sixty to eighty people who were sitting down enjoying their meals, I realized that three quarters of them were male. Mme. Kerwin said, "Most of the people who come here are mentally ill having just departed state correctional facilities, are physically disabled or are recovering alcoholics. With this new knowledge I moved to a different table where Bob, a blind man, answered my initial question: "Sadly, it is a part of my life." Bob, a little flustered, stumbled on, "I know the rich folk criticize me and the others here, but believe me, it is hard to get a job when your skills are limited to a high school diploma." He continued in his own defense, "When the pedestal they (the rich people) stand on crumbles due to unemployment or other uncontrollable factors they will be down and out like the rest of us. If any one of us got a break we would sure as hell hang on to it because we have experienced what happens when you let it slip away."
I queried, "Is a soup kitchen an effective way to help others? Or do you know of better methods to help people?" He answered after a long pause, "A soup kitchen is a great start, but more can be done. We are all capable of helping others, but only a caring few actually do the 'dirty work'. Most just ... [thinking of a proverb] lead a horse to water, but they don't offer the animal a drink from their own spring. Likewise some people tell the homeless about the great soup kitchens that are available, but they wouldn't help make the food, or even talk to the people. Accordingly, there are two ways to help people: one, for a short period of time, then they lose interest and two, actually sacrifice a part of oneself to get another human being back on his or her feet. In conclusion, everyone must continue to take interest in those who lead a less fortunate life."
I left the Bristol Lodge Kitchen realizing that one day I might have to return under their circumstances. Kevin, an Irish fellow, yelled to me from his seat, "Remember your weaknesses and share the wealth." Contemplating all the pious remarks, proverbs and biblical quotes of the afternoon I walked home.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.