Tomato Pants

February 10, 2012
It was freshman year when I experienced my first community service hours. Our honors English teacher, Mrs. Johnson, made it as a final assignment for us. After we committed the hours, we had to write a paragraph describing the experience we had. To be honest, it was probably the greatest experience of my life still to this day.

I will never forget the rush of anxiety I felt as we were preparing to descend from the school. The community service administrator first informed us of what exactly we would be doing once we approach the charity center. The administrator announced that we were going to Andre House, which is one of the food bank facilities that reside in Phoenix. As the guardian continued explaining everything we would be doing, my head instantly became inundated with feelings and all the emotions that existed undertook my body. I never did anything like that before, so naturally, I became flushed with a healthy kind of panic.

As we filled the bus, I saw that one of my good friends was coming along the trip, so I sat next to her. I asked if she was nervous and she simply said “no.” I wondered why responded so nonchalantly, and it turned out it was her seventh time going on one of the trips to the center. She continued on informing me about her experience and how she loved coming. After she reassured me that there was really nothing much to worry about, I finally started to relax and take everything in. All of a sudden the bus stops, and I realize that we have reached the building.

Stepping off the bus, I quickly acknowledge that there was already a line forming outside. I gasp because the depth of the line was so vast, but that was not the only part that shocked me about the line. I was most shocked about the people in the line and their physical appearances. Some looked as if they haven’t eaten in a while, and some were even in wheelchairs. I found it heartbreaking that a person in a wheelchair was going through town without a place to call “home.” Right then and there, I felt like it was now my duty to assist in feeding all of these people; I felt like I was responsible for them.

We enter the place, and there is a select group of people bustling through and preparing food. Our job was to also help start making the food. We were all divided into groups and given a specific task, such as cutting up different ingredients; it was taco night. The group I was in was given the job of cutting up tomatoes. The friend I was talking to was put in a different group, so I had to get along with the people I did not know all that well. I realized two of the girls, Bridget and Haley, who I later ended up becoming close with, that were in my group were from my English class, so I start conversing with them. We start cracking jokes and end up having a blast cutting up the tomatoes. The funniest part of this experience was that the juice from the tomatoes that was on my chopping board ended up being knocked onto my lap. Next thing I know, there is the largest tomato stain on my left pant leg, and whoever was around was laughing like there was no tomorrow, me being included. Haley and I automatically start making humorous and sarcastic remarks, such as “tomato pants are totally the new fad.” After I tried to clean off as much as I could in the restroom, I noticed that I actually liked having the stain there. I felt like this stain will be a remembrance of the service I did.

After we were all done cutting up the ingredients, we go set up all the stations with all the food. The people that worked at the center told us that we would set up, and we would basically be working as an assembly line and we would be putting the food we had in the station we were assigned to in the plates of the people that come through the line. I felt crazily excited to be interacting with the homeless men and women that would come through the line; I wanted to be able to see the face of the person I cooked for. All of the men and women that came through the line were remarkably polite. They would say “please” and “thank you” and some would even go as far as complimenting on the preparation of the food. It felt really nice to be able to hear that. The hardest part of handing out the food was that we could not give them more than what the limit was. We had to casually find a way to say “no” if they asked to put extra on their plate. Luckily there was only a tiny amount that we had to say “no” to, so that was kind of a “sigh of relief” moment.

Once we ran out of food, we had to stop and clean up. Again, we were all put in groups and were given certain jobs. Our group had the job of cleaning off the tables. This time Haley was in my group, so I did not feel all that out of place. We both were given rags and were quickly put to work. As we would clean, we would be cracking jokes at the same time, so it made cleaning tables go smooth even though it really wasn’t all that bad to begin with. There was a moment when we split apart and cleaned off different tables. The table I had however still had a person finishing their supper. The elderly man looked up as I was coming closer and smiled at me and asked me how I was doing, and I instantly smiled and said “I’m doing fine, how are you?” He replied back with a “fine” and then I asked about is opinion on the food. I slowly begin to realize that I was having a full blown conversation with this man. The crazy part was that I never looked at him as if he was homeless or talked to him like he was homeless. I spoke to him as if I was talking to someone I knew my whole life. He was a kindhearted old man, and I enjoyed our short but sweet conversation. It will be a conversation I will never forget.

As I look back, I realize that Andre House was probably the best experience I have had in a long time. I cannot put into words the feeling I had after I did those hours. It felt so amazing giving back to my community and helping those who have less than me. Also, I was able to meet new friends and be able to have a better perspective on reality. I do not have a firm grasp on reality, but that experience gave me and better picture on it. It’s like a win-win situation, and that’s one of the parts I loved. I plan on going to Andre House a lot more throughout my life and possibly any other food bank center. Because of Andre House, I learned that it is important to give back to those who are less fortunate and also to not judge those people, but treat them as your family.

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