Silvia volunteers on Wednesdays and Sundays at the church on the corner. She isn’t always on time for set-up but they hold a place for her in the serving line—she likes to help with the salad. Impeccably dressed, her long curls are pulled into a loose bun, her bright red nails skillfully break the seal on a new bottle of salad dressing.
“Here hon,” she says, “let me hold your plate and you can put on as much dressing as you want.” Some of the eaters ask about her kids, others just grunt and move on to the drink table to choose lemonade or coffee.
They are all from nearby—the shelter up the street, or from one of the rooming houses, or a tent over by the railroad tracks. A few are from the senior housing around the corner. Silvia lives in the garage behind one of the walk-ups on Oak Street.
“No tomatoes, right?” to one person, and “Oh, you’ve got to have salad, sweet heart. Mama always said to eat your vegetables.” Staff has warned her that she can’t make people take salad, but nothing stops her from trying. “Just take a little” or “come on, it’s lettuce, it doesn’t even taste like anything.” Salad is nearly impossible to chew if you don’t have teeth, but Silvia persists.
When I ask for volunteers to be interviewed Silvia is eager to take part, but does not show up for her scheduled Thursday appointment. I see her again on Sunday and try again. “Can you spend a few minutes before we start serving?”
She can, and she shares freely about how the meal program works—she was there at the start, when the pastor and a few others were brainstorming on the front steps of the church. She effuses about the pastor, and about Marina, the cook. “They really listen to you. Like they know when you need to talk and then they don’t judge you.”
“What kinds of things do you share?” I ask cautiously.
“Oh, you know, when things are hard,” Silvia’s eyes avoid mine, darting around the room. “I think its time to start serving.” She hurries away as I call “thank you” to her back.
I approach the serving table and Camilla places me behind the green beans, next to Silvia, and hands me a one-cup measure as a serving spoon. Right away I run into trouble—the scoop holds water with the beans which I pour onto someone’s plate. The water pours off onto the table. Silvia pops up to grab paper towels and cleans up the water, and then calms the man whose meal I’d messed up. Once he was settled she showed me how to hold the cup against the side of the serving bowl and drain off the water.
“I thought you were an expert in meals?” she said accusingly. The pastor had in fact introduced me that way.
I shrug with an embarrassed smile. “I don’t know much about the food part. I know about volunteers and churches.”
“What good is that?”
For my organized thoughts, see my book Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Developing Relational Food Ministries. In this spot are thoughts that appear for a moment--about food programs, mission, church, building community, writing, and whatever else pops into my head.