I went over to help serve dinner at the Central City Assembly Church the other night. CCA has what they call the Family Meal Ministry three nights a week where they serve a free hot meal to whoever needs one. This is not limited just to homeless folks, although there were a fair number of the homeless there. The meal is open to everyone who doesn’t have access to food for whatever reason, and is hungry. That can include the poor, as well as a number of students who usually show up. The pastor of Central City says the meal is an absolutely “no strings attached” proposition, and from what I saw it was. There is no pressure at all to join the church, and you don’t even have to sit through a church service as is common at many faith-based feeding programs. In fact, aside from the blessing offered before dinner you’d never know you were in a church at all! Well, that and the big cross hanging on the dining room wall, but aside from that.
I was one of the “juice guys,” which meant I wandered around with a big jug of juice (orange juice that night) and served it to whoever wanted some. This is one of the unique aspects of the CCA dinner. We actually serve you! You sit at a table, and we’ll bring you your food and beverage. Unlike the soup kitchen and most other community feeding programs there is no endlessly long line to stand and wait in. The other unusual thing is that we serve on actual plates, with actual metal silverware. There are no sack lunches or paper plates and plastic forks here. The pastor says it’s done this way to provide a little dignity, and I think it does. And done this way it also allows people to chat with their neighbors and get to know them, instead of worrying about their place in line and how fast things are moving.
One thing I’ve noticed about homeless folks, and the poor in general, is that they are immensely thankful for the most minor of things. I saw this over and over again as I was wandering around serving everybody juice. People would just effusively thank me, in a few cases nearly to the point of tears. I was almost tempted to say something like, “Get a grip, it’s only a damn cup of juice!” but I’ve been there and I know how it feels. I understand where they’re coming from. When you have nothing, anything, even the most minor and trivial things, means a lot.
The food isn’t fancy, but there’s a hell of a lot of it! One plate was more than I could eat, but seconds are always offered. After that they’ll keep on serving until everything is gone, so it’s really an all-you-can-eat deal. We had a hamburger and pasta casserole as well as mashed potatoes with corn mixed in. We also had just about every kind of bread you can imagine, and like a million kinds of deserts ranging from pastries to cookies to cupcakes to fresh angel food cake. And the juice! At the soup kitchen and the shelters about the best you’ll get is water. If you even get that. Never anything like actual juice, with some actual flavor to it! Again it’s the little things that matter.
Since it was a nice night we served both indoors and outdoors, and we had a pretty mixed crowd. Everybody from little tiny kids right up to old geezers. I did just a really quick rough estimate and it looked like there were well over 200 people there, plus maybe 15 or 20 volunteers. CCA says they serve over 800 free meals a week, and it sure looks like they do. Never having worked there before I was a little skeptical that they could pull it off smoothly with so many people, but it all went like clockwork. The food got served, and quickly. Then seconds were called and we served those. No hiccups that I could see, and everybody looked like they were enjoying the meal.
They always need help serving dinner so if you are so inclined stop by! They serve Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and dinner is at 6pm. Get there a little early and ask for Jon and he’ll find something you can do. CCA is on 10th, a block north of 22nd. It’s fun, you’ll meet some interesting people, and you’ll feel good about doing something for the less fortunate which they’ll greatly appreciate! You can hardly ask for much more than that!