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The Strawberry Man
When I first walked into the soup kitchen it was nothing what I had expected. I thought it would be just like I had always imagined it- the serving table- steel with multiple shelves, the table actually carved to fit pots and pans for soups and sandwiches. I also thought they served themselves. But it was not like that. Not even remotely close.
The table was one of those fold up ones, like the ones you see at school. There were no shelves, no carvings, and we served them. Now that I think back on it I wonder why I thought the way I did. Why would they spend money on the serving table when they could spend it on food?
The kitchen was totally unexpected to me. When I volunteered at the homeless shelter in my town, there was no kitchen. Everyone brought their own meal. I, having only to bring milk, figured it was the same way. The kitchen was old and outdated but you could tell it used to be decent. Everyone was helping out whatever it may be. Making salad, filling cups with fruit, cutting cake, etc. I, along with my sister, had the task of filling cups with fruit.
When we finished ‘“our very important job”’ as the head woman-Andrea- said, we got the task of filling containers with peanut butter and jelly, ‘“another very important job, possibly the most important.”’ I would later find out why.
At ten to twelve we were finished and had just about everything set up. For lunch there was chicken noodle soup, corn on the cob, an assortment of casseroles, beans, sausages, bread and butter, fruit, cake, pie and brownies, milk, lemonade, water, and the peanut butter and jelly with tons of bread next to it. When something would begin to run out Andrea would be right there refilling the container.
My sister and I were in charge of serving the milk but not just that, we were also in charge of another thing. Andrea had put out paper bags on the table along with fruits and vegetables. When I asked her what it was doing there she explained that in the bag was food for them to take with them to eat for dinner, since they only served lunch. The fruits and vegetables- they were also free to take.
The soup kitchen was for anyone. You didn’t have to be homeless. You could be going through a rough time and need the extra meal, and some people you could tell didn’t need it they just came for the meal- that was okay, too. It didn’t matter. They didn’t ask questions.
When they came I didn’t know what to say to them so I simply smiled when they walked by and I didn’t say a thing. I let them begin the conversation. There was one man who was particularly friendly; he talked to pretty much everyone as he got his food. When it was our turn to serve him he started talking about the hotdog eating contest that had been going on that day. It had just gotten over and it had been a new record. I wish I had listened more carefully because now, thinking back, I can’t remember anything else he said in our conversation and I know he said more.
I noticed-as did my sister- that as soon as people got their food they ran over to grab their prize- the paper bags. It was saddening. I saw one woman take the paper bag and look through it as she sat down. There was a sandwich, a paper baggie containing, I would say, ten raisins and, a juice box. And the woman was happy to have it.
As many paper bags as there were they left as soon as they came. And there were no more in the kitchen. Andrea never came out saying, “Here ya go honey! I brought ya another round of them.” like she did with all the other food. It just didn’t happen. I felt bad for the ones who didn’t come in the first half an hour that the soup kitchen opened, because after that the paper bags were gone.
After the paper bags were gone I was curious about the peanut butter and jelly so I asked my sister to take over and let my eye wander toward the station. I was truly amazed by what I saw. After getting there food, many of the people were making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, stacks and stacks of them. One man used up a whole loaf. He then put all the sandwiches in the backpack he was carrying. I didn’t know if it was for the reason that there were no more paper bags or if that’s what they always did. For some reason, I felt that this was there normal routine. Get lunch, and then fill the backpack with tons of sandwiches-their dinner for the next three nights.
It was none of these, though, that truly made me feel mad at the world, although everyone of those instances were sad. An old man, his white hair shaggy, messy, and short, walked up to the fruits and vegetables. He was particularly looking at the strawberries. There were packs of strawberries sitting on the table. He turned himself towards us and asked:
“Can we take the whole pack?” When we said yes his face lit up like nothing I’ve ever seen. In that moment my heart truly broke. It will stick with me forever. And I will never forget him.
“Oh wow this is great!” he answered. Even if he hadn’t answered I knew he was grateful for the strawberries, probably his breakfast for tomorrow or maybe he would stretch it out and eat a few at a time. Whatever the circumstance may be, that moment made me hate the world; why are we helping other countries- were giving so much money away- when we need help right here?
Whenever I go back to the soup kitchen I look for that man “the strawberry man” as I call him. And he is always there, each and every time. I wish I knew his name and I truly wish I could help him. But I don’t know how. I hope that one day things will turn around for him, for all of them. That one day they’ll get their life on track. I don’t know when-or if- they will get off their bumpy road but I truly hope one day they will. With all of my heart.