The First Parish soup kitchen has been one of ReachOut’s partner sites since we began our volunteer program. The church, located in Harvard Square, provides meals every Tuesday night to those without resources. The needs of the homeless and hungry seem, at first, to be basic and quite obvious. Likewise, our role as volunteers seems straightforward and clear; we must prepare, serve, and provide food for those who have none.
Yet, for those who come to the First Parish Soup Kitchen, there is often an even greater need than their hunger- often what they crave is to connect. Judy Laris, the coordinator for the Soup Kitchen program, shared a sermon she wrote on the needs of the hungry. I was most touched by the line, “It only takes simple things to make a difference, to satisfy the deeper hunger for connection”. She goes on to share a story of loneliness that took my breath away,
Several months back, after the meal was finished, everything cleaned up, the volunteers had left and I was about to leave when one of our regular guests came in. I immediately wanted to get him something to eat. He said “No, no, I can’t eat anyway, was just hoping to say hi…I had a really bad day.” At first I practically had to sit on my hands to stop myself from fixing him some food, but then I remembered, of course, he was hoping for a moment of connection. It was so simple and enjoyable to just sit and talk with him for a few minutes. I learned, he had indeed had a bad day, but talking about it seemed to lift his spirits. Last Tuesday I saw him and told him I was going to speak today about community and connection. I asked if I could talk about that day when he came in late and just wanted to talk. He said yes without hesitation, we discussed it a bit more and then the conversation turned to his cat. He is in a living situation right now where he can’t have his pet with him, and it had appeared that his cat would be going to an animal shelter. Then one of those remarkable synchronistic moments occurred and a Tuesday Meals volunteer offered to provide foster care for his cat until he is able to have it back. He told me “there was a day when I had friends, a lot of them, I could have asked 20 different people to take my cat. Now, sometimes I’ll go into a store and spend a dollar, just to have someone to talk to.”
I’ve come to believe that providing the opportunity at Tuesday Meals for those moments of connection is every bit as important as the food we serve.
Judy’s story about the need for connection shines a light on our work and those we serve. A new cycle of ReachOut will begin shortly, and this time next week 12 ReachOut volunteers will be heading to the First Parish Soup Kitchen. Over the course of their volunteering they will ladle soup, hand out bread, circulate bananas, pour glasses of milk, take head counts, sweep up spills, serve vegetables, dress salads and pass out the main course… And, perhaps most importantly, they will be part of a community of volunteers who pause their busy lives to appreciate the needs that accompany hunger pains.
Jordyn Rozensky is the Social Justice Coordinator for Young Adults at the JCRC. She organizes the ReachOut! volunteer program for Jewish young professionals. She received her MPP and Masters in Jewish Leadership from Brandeis University, as well as a BA in Religion and Biblical Literature from Smith College. In her spare time she is an amateur TV critic, addicted to blogs about photography and continues to claim she is almost done writing a romance novel.