“We came back here to give back. I need something, a purpose.” – Blu, while scrambling eggs
When we were on the precipice of autumn’s beginning, Hugh told me to “Relish the wins. Winter is hell”. Winter is tough. Today we pulled out the hats, scarves, gloves and handwarmers that we’ve been storing up over the summer. Luckily, everyone got clothed today. I say “luckily” because our amount of guests has increased.
This, by all means, is a good thing, but we did find ourselves very quickly heating up emergency side-dishes at lunch because it looked as though there was simply not going to be enough.
This leads me to my first story of “winning”. Our dedicated kitchen crew evolves over time, and Rob*, a sweet man who we jokingly refer to as “The Swedish Iron Chef”, has decided to return home to his family and friends.
Cooking with Rob* is a lot like cooking with anybody’s dad. There’s a “meat first” focus. He likes to make gravy. His organizational system is something only he can follow. One day I walked into the kitchen and he needed “emergency cornstarch” for the gravy. There was at least 3 different types of food going and he was racing around and I laughingly did my best impression of the Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show, and the joke stuck.
Rob is a father and a grandfather. He always says to take care of “little people and ladies first”. He spends a lot of time networking and finding things to help other people. Rob is on a walk-about; he’s grieving the loss of his wife, and he expresses that grief by traveling the world as a transient person, helping other transient people. His brother passed away last week and he decided to go home and visit family and friends. We got him a ticket and I took him to gather his things.
He showed me several clever stashes he had in the woods of tarps and blankets that he kept for giving out to people who had none. I’m going to honor his wishes and make sure these things make it into the hands of folks who can use them. I was tearful as I dropped him off at the Greyhound station, but also happy that he was going home to family that I’m sure was worried about him.
When people return to family and safety, that’s a big win. He thank us all several times, at one point saying that “cooking for people was all that was holding him together for a while”. No, thank YOU, Rob for sharing your gifts with us.
His absence has left a spot on our Kitchen Team, which this week we’ve discovered, is probably more than just one spot. Luckily, our friend, Blu, came to us this week to volunteer and we couldn’t be happier.
We love Blu. She has been on a lived journey through addiction, and now she’s emerged on the other side, a success. Blu coined the phrase “We were hopeless dope fiends, but now we’re dopeless hope fiends”. I want her to make t-shirts that say that. “I want to contribute to the place that helped me so much. It gives me purpose”, she says.
We’ve talked a LOT about purpose this week. Blu wants to start a support group for people who are using methadone to get off of heroine, as currently, there is nothing like that. Her goal is to work in substance-abuse counseling. “Love Wins loves with a radical kind of love,” I said to her, “There’s a place here for things that have never been done before, and I think your idea is excellent!”
In our line of work, the ultimate win is having everything come full circle- when our community members are successful and reach their goals, returning to us as volunteers.
While we’re on the subject of the Kitchen Team, you may remember last week’s blog about Dana*, who was looking for a job in the restaurant industry. She won big today and got a job working in the kitchen of a very nice local restaurant that welcomes her with open arms. We’re so proud of her, but more than that, she’s proud of herself. Yesterday she made homemade salad dressing that was better than any vinaigrette I’ve tasted in my life; people actually, happily, ate all of the salad and returned for seconds (which is a smaller win in and of itself).
Winning looks many different ways here – going home, kicking a habit, getting a job. Two of our folks have gotten approved for housing this week, which is a huge win for them before the weather gets too cold. Our community volunteer team is growing by leaps and bounds making the culture at the center even more familial.
Everyone is fired up about Thanksgiving and excited about cooking for Big Lunch Wednesday on the 22nd. You’re invited, and if you’d like to bring something, please email Alyssa at firstname.lastname@example.org .
*Names are changed, to protect the privacy of community members.