(This is a fictional exposition and does not show reveal the identify of the actual people getting served at the Hot Meals program.)
It is a quiet, cold morning. I walked across the zoo and arrived at an old church where I could make out the name, “St. Joseph.” The sun is peeking out through the clouds and I look towards the sky, embracing the warmth of the air and the sunlight. Then, I smelled something. Something delicious that reminded me of the food my mother used to make when I was a kid. Sniff… Grilled chicken… potatoes. That is all I could make up from the smell. I started walking to the back of the church and peeked in through the windows. A bunch of people in red and white aprons were preparing and cooking in the kitchen. One of them was a young girl with jet, black hair. “A new volunteer,” I thought. Everyone was busy, skinning potatoes, chopping up fresh broccoli. Then I look out at the dining room. Fresh pieces of soft loaves of bread were being spread out onto the shiny platter and my mouth was overfilling with saliva just looking at it. It has already been a week, I thought, since I had a decent meal.
Then I see shapes and shadows around the corner of the church. More people started showing up, clamouring outside the door, waiting for the church to open their doors to us. Sure it was already open and not locked, but we follow the rules that we are only supposed to go in at 11:00 am. There! It says so in English and Spanish right outside the door, “Las puertas se abren a 11:00am (the doors open at 11:00)” I saw the crowds of people. Some were well off, some were homeless, and some were poor. There are no differences between us other than the fact that we all came to eat and receive this blessing. I saw a man with a fancy bicycle helmet, another with an ironed shirt and jacket, freshly washed. I saw another women with gaping holes between her two front teeth, with a jacket that was too faded to recognize the actual colour. Another lady, was talking to her dad in the car, who was waiting for the quick hands and feet of his daughter to bring his meal for the day.
Suddenly, as if the big clock from the sky chimed once, the doors flung open, and the crowds of hungry stomachs rushed in to fill the empty spots of the church. Hands, skinny or swollen, grabbed the loaves of bread. With dexterity, people splat on pieces of butter onto the loaves. My mouth, now filling with saliva, was instinctively craving for the sweetness and heartiness that a slice of bread contained. My teeth sank into its soft loamy flesh, my tongue savoring every bit of it.
Then, a volunteer opened the window to the kitchen. There revealed a line of volunteers standing with containers full of food: grilled vegetables, sliced turkey meat, mashed potatoes, and fruits. People lined up to receive their prize. The empty, green, plastic trays were quickly filled with the essence of thanksgiving. Although it was not really Thanksgiving per say, but it sure felt like it. Looking at the ladies’ faces I opened my mouth and made a humongous smile and said “Gracias ladies, gracias senoras.” The ladies smiled back at me.
I returned to the table. People were already getting their seconds while I got a bowl of hot piping tomato soup to complete my meal. All the flavors of the food blended as I was quick to stuff everything I can into my mouth. I looked around. Around 100 people were eating and filling their stomachs. We came a long distance to get our food. Some of us have a place to live. Some of us do not. Regardless of who we all we all get the same treatment here and everybody gets along, Asians, whites, Hispanics and blacks.
Grabbing another piece of bread, I step out of the church, looking forwards to the next meal day. “Time to start another day,” I thought, rubbing my full, warm stomach and stepped out into the sun.
(Pictures taken with permission of Micheal Gregory, the Program Coordinator and the Lead Volunteer at the Hot Meals program)