Mission 2016: Stockton Day 5 – Gimme Shelter

Wednesday is a unique day for us at SSP and it was a great day, Dear Reader. Rather than work in our regular work teams comprised of people from several churches and at our regular work sites, we took on special projects as church groups. Later, we ended up at the beach for a swim and a cookout. Here’s the scoop:
The Breakfast Club
SSP Site Director, Megan, and SSP staffer, Kelsey, joined our team from Hennepin Avenue UMC to serve the breakfast meal at St. Mary’s Dining Room, the next building over from the homeless shelter some of us are working at and across the street from a tent town tragically filled with those who have no home. We could tell right away we were in for an experience that many of us had never had.
Once we were inside, we broke up into teams. One team got ready in the kitchen to get food out to serve while the other team wrapped silverware in napkins for future meals until it was time to serve the meal for the morning. See, St. Mary’s doesn’t just do breakfast, and they don’t just do it on weekdays. Rather, they do breakfast, lunch, and dinner, three meals a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, including holidays. That’s over 1000 meals per year, relying on volunteers, donations, and kindness. So yeah, they needed a few hundred extra forks wrapped in napkins today!
When 8:30am hit, the doors opened for breakfast. It was slow at first and then boom, the rush came inside. While almost the entire group has experience with the Community Meals ministry at Hennepin, one discernable difference is that many of the people who enjoy that meal are employed or at least in some form of housing. However, those who ate this meal were very likely homeless, perhaps even from the tents across the street. I don’t think it was lost on anyone how many children we saw. It was challenging, for sure.
I was really impressed by how creative the kitchen staff got with the food. For example, the first round of food was standard breakfast fare: plump, juicy sausages, fluffy biscuits, protein-rich yogurt, and so on. But as some resources dried up, others were substituted. Sausage links became hamburger patties became chicken breasts became chicken nuggets. Likewise, biscuits became pancakes became toast. Muffins became pastries became donut holes. Leftovers aren’t just a convenience, they are a necessity to help the food stretch far for these hungry people. This kind of creativity is essential, particularly when working with donated food. In fact, 95% of their food is donated, coming from individuals and organizations including local farmers and restaurateurs, often anonymous.
In addition to the Dining Hall, we were told about the variety of donations St. Mary’s takes to get into the hands of the homeless. For example, there’s a medical clinic, dental clinic, hygiene centers for showers, and so on. For clothing, the rule is if you wouldn’t wear it, they wouldn’t wear it. And, like our Community Meals, in the last week of a log month, resources run short and they give out more in that time. When it comes to donations, our liaison, Georgie, explained it was more helpful to make an open ask rather than a specific one. Many like to donate to a particular corner of need. However, if people keep open to donations instead of specify, if you trust the experts to do well by your donation, it’s what keeps the lights on and pays the staff. It’s not a large staff, either; in the kitchen, it’s essentially two cooks and a few interns.
After breakfast, many of us went back to rolling silverware and others went into the kitchen slicing up hundreds of veggies (“ugly” but “tasty” ones that didn’t sell and were donated) to get ready for the next meal. During breakfast, one of my jobs was to walk around each table with Sean, Morghan, and Kate to take trays for people once they were finished eating. I definitely got my 10,000 steps in today!
I’ve served at several shelters and community meals in my day, and every time I do, I can’t help but find myself praying nearly the entire time. I pray for those eating, that they find the stability they seek, and that they come to find they are sought by Christ. And I pray to say thank you to God for the blessings I have and for help to do well by those blessings in terms of use and sharing. And I pray to hope for what might come of this meal, how might people be nourished not just by calories and protein but by dignity and kindness. Georgie told us how important saying simple things like, “Good morning” really can be for those eating meals. Some people look away from the homeless, they end up helping feed the isolating feeling our homeless brothers and sisters already feel. “We want to restore dignity,” said Georgie, in response to that reality. She means it, too.
Rollin’ on the River
The afternoon was a real treat. We got into our work teams and headed out of town to the Brannan Island Recreation Area for some R&R. Most everyone took a dip in the lazy river and it felt great. Some of us played football and other games, others swam and floated around, while a few of us simply stood in the soothing water and chatted with new and old friends. After swimming (and a few hands of The Great Dalmuti link: German version), we had a BBQ dinner of burgers and dogs courtesy of the staff and Scott.
The evening wrapped up with a brief nature walk slightly down the path from our picnic spot. We took a few minutes to be in silent reflection as we spread out to take in the glory of the nature around us. I was personally reminded quite a bit of the Sanctuary time we have at the end of camp ministry evenings and I felt right at home praying in nature and thanking God for this beautiful creation and for God’s presence in the ups and downs of my life.
Tomorrow we go back to our work sites in our usual work teams. The hope is to take advantage of that full work day on Thursday to get as close to finished with our projects as possible so Friday can truly be a wrap-up day. Thank you for subscribing and reading, and please be sure to drop us a comment. Oh, and tap/click the pic to make it bigger.

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