She sat stroking the fur of the stuffed toy. A sea lion. A sea lion wearing a baby-blue dog coat.
“Ouch! He bit me! I can’t blame him. Really. He’s 4 months old and teething.”
And thus began our Thanksgiving as volunteers with the Hot Metal Bridge Church community on the South Side.
I paused. It took me a minute to register what was happening.
“I’m so sorry he bit you. Does it hurt?”
“No. You know how puppies are.”
“I do. Well, you are doing a great job snuggling him. I can tell he loves you very much.”
As I glanced down at the table where she had placed a few of her personal belongings, having removed them from the basket on her walker, I noticed Barry.
A 5×7 color cut-out of Mr. Gibb, in his signature white, polyester suit, was sitting beside her plate.
I smiled. And got her some pie.
When we first entered Hot Metal Bridge Church earlier today, my ultimate concern was for Harper. She had communicated for days how nervous she was to be with “strangers”. Translation: homeless folk. She clung to me, visibly shaken, as if she might cry at any moment, her eyes frozen wide as if she’d just seen a ghost.
To assist her, we had made “welcome cards” over breakfast – each with a handwritten word/scripture reference, as I thought that perhaps having something to offer to our guests would be helpful. While Zane took to our designated role of Welcome Wagon like white on rice, bouncing around to everyone while handing out our cards with with a cheerful “Happy Thanksgiving! This is for you!” – Harper? Not so much.
She needed more of a “chore” role. Something to scoop, or cut, or . . . WHIPPED CREAM!
As a volunteer vacancy opened up at the dessert table, I knew we’d found her place.
Harper LOVES whipped cream. Eating it. Squirting it. Making designs with it.
She quickly took up the uber-important job of offering everyone whipped cream on their dessert. Within minutes, her demeanor had gone from terrified to, “Don’t you want whipped cream with that?! Yes?! WOOT!” Suddenly, those “strangers” she was so worried about had names. And needed pie. And whipped cream. She seriously turned her tiny job into a party. Hive-fives. Fist-bumps. Even a squirt directly into one of our guest’s hands, to which she responded with, “Ok. That was awesome!”
I stepped away and she took over with another adult volunteer, while Zane continued handing out cards and prepared “to go” desserts in small boxes.
I realized we had truly turned a corner upon hearing her exclaim, “When we come back next year, I’m totally working this table again!”
So, what did I notice from our afternoon?
That those who have nothing are so much more gracious and loving than I am. I was hugged. Kissed. And there is no drama-Jo here when I say that EVERY person with whom I personally came in contact, when offered a “to-go” box, first DECLINED, (saying they didn’t want to be wasteful) and only after some prodding, answered with, “Ok. I’ll take a couple of boxes. I’m going to give them to _______________.”
They planned to GIVE THEM AWAY.
You know, this was the FIRST Thanksgiving in YEARS which hasn’t found me in a post food-orgy coma. I didn’t over-indulge – and no . . . it wasn’t a choice because of the whole Beachbody health and fitness thing . . . but because today I learned a lesson about being wasteful.
These folks, some of whom walked in wearing every piece of clothing they had (one gentleman had 6 coats to remove before he could take his seat) DID NOT WASTE A THING. Including food. I had one small plate. Seriously? Did I REALLY need any more than that? No. I didn’t. (Most Americans don’t . . .)
Will we volunteer again?
In a heartbeat.
Am I rethinking our Thanksgiving tradition from here on out?
After all, I can’t wait to see that cute little sea lion/puppy a year from now, as I’m sure it will have grown so much.
Hot Metal Bridge Church. Muppet Movie. After-hours gathering at Cafe Kolache.
A VERY Happy Thanksgiving. Don’t you think?