A Christmas Eve meal served to 141 people in need of a hot meal. I was expecting men and women, not children. I wasn’t expecting to see little faces among the crowd. That was heart wrenching.
We arrived at the shelter a little earlier than we were told to, there was already a crowd of people filing into the room that serves as a sanctuary. We were saying hello and Merry Christmas to those who would meet our eyes, those who would listen. When we got to the kitchen there was a buzz about the place. We met “Cook” and a few other men who work at the shelter, some even live there, once being homeless and now pouring their lives into helping others get on their feet or just survive. A little history on the shelter, it sleeps 80 men each night, they provide 7 night temporary shelter for homeless men. Each night there is a church service at 7pm for men, women, and children and an evening meal is served to anyone who attend the service. They have showers and clean clothes for the men who are given a bed and breakfast the following morning. Every Monday homeless men can come and get a shower and clean clothes. They will give anyone a bible or new testament and they also provide a reading room and mail service for anyone. They are trying to open a facility next door to allow women a place to sleep. However, the funding is not all in place yet. Women are fed, given a few supplies, but have to return to the streets at night.
Matthew, Berry, and I were assigned to cutting pies. They had this cool gadget that cut the pie into fours and then you rotated it to cut those four into 8. So we were in charge of cutting the pies, putting a slice, a pat of butter, and a roll on each plate. The first dinner service was for 80 people, 8 settings at each table. Each setting had a cup of cranberry sauce, a salad, a cup of olives, a cup of fruit cocktail, a cup for water, a can of soda, a napkin and plastic-ware and a cup of hard candy. All of that was set up ahead of time. Then we all lined up to get plates of hot food for each place. The hot plate had turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, mixed vegetables or green beans, and stuffing. Once the tables were set 8 people were let in to be seated. This process continued until all the tables were full. Berry and I were put in charge of giving out plastic bags to those who asked for them. Some of the people wanted to bag their food and leave. There were homeless, low-income couples living off of their Social Security and families with small children. The people who touched me the most were the families. Young kids, dressed in their best clothes, eating the only special meal that they will get for the holidays. Some of the children wouldn’t even look you in the eye, each and every person that I could physically touch, I touched. I didn’t see them as homeless or dirty, they were people just like me. We could all be just a step away from being where they are, needing. I’m ashamed to say this, but before today, I didn’t think that way. I wouldn’t have reached out to touch a homeless person. Today, God gave me a love for them that I didn’t have in the past.
I have never served at a mission before. I have given the transient on the corner money, food, water, but I have never gone into their midst, not until 3 weeks ago when I took Heather to help lead worship at their 7 o’clock service. I was transfixed by the joy on some of their faces, the absolute joy because of Jesus shining out from their hearts. I saw it again today. The joy of hearing the message, the music, the gratitude for the food that was served and those who served it. When the first 80 were finished we reset the tables for 61 more. There was a short service in between, mainly music, that gave us time to wash the tables and reset for the next service.
When each group was done eating they exited out the back where they were given bags to fill with underwear, socks, shampoo, body soap, scarves, blankets, deodorant, t-shirts, razors, and gifts of miscellanea and candy.
It was beautiful and tragic all at the same time. Humbling. To see so many in need and know that it was only a fraction of our homeless population. To know that hundreds of facilities around the city of Los Angeles have been serving and are serving thousands of meals this weekend, each night of the week in fact.
If you are like me, and have never served, I encourage you to do so. There is a feeling in my heart this evening that I can’t describe. It was a small thing, a few hours out of our day, but the feeling will last. It’s good.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.
Matthew 25:35-40 ESV