Monday, August 31, 2015
My summer ministry was at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen on Connor Street in Detroit. My primary responsibilities were to minister to those who were coming to the kitchen for meals and other services.
I volunteered at the Kitchen most Fridays and Saturdays through the summer. I usually arrived around 8:00 AM, shortly before the serving line volunteers started showing up, and worked until 1:00 PM. I would help a bit with meal preparations, sometimes greet the line volunteers, and then head out into the dining room to mingle with the guests who were already gathering for breakfast, which was served from 8:30 to 9:30. Lunch, which was served from 11:00 to 1:00, frequently meant a new set of line volunteers.
On Fridays between meals the Detroit Action Commonwealth (D.A.C.) would meet at the Kitchen. I would help them and the U-M students who came by to assist folks with replacing lost state IDs, request copies of birth certificates, get driver’s licenses reinstated, or request other social services. On several occasions helping the D.A.C. meant driving people from the Kitchen to the Secretary of State’s office and back. On Saturdays, a computer lab was opened up between meal servings. This allowed folks to check email, apply for jobs, search for housing, and apply for various social services. I was dumbfounded to see how many people had email accounts, not to mention one or more smart phones. However, after seeing how many social services required online sign-up or status reporting, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there is a need for individuals to have Internet access.
It was in the computer lab one Saturday that I got a chance to meet and speak with Rick. He was thumbing through a children’s book on the 50 states. Along with various facts about the state, the book highlighted someone important from that state. Frequently these “favorite sons” were musicians. Rick and I spent the afternoon looking up on my phone the real names of several Blues musicians. This time established a connection that I used the rest of the summer to ask how he was doing, what his plans were each time I saw him come in for a meal. Because of this, I made it a point to reach out to Rick my last day at the Kitchen. In the course of our conversation, and not in a forced way, I referred to his full name. His astonishment that I remembered Rick was short for Roderick was a powerful reminder for me of how a person’s name is their identity and their dignity.
As for some of the other guests that left an impression on me, there was Mercedes, and elderly woman who told me about her many businesses, her property, and how it was all taken from her. There was one gentleman who came in all decked out in a Marine Corps polo shirt and ball cap. As he walked by I shouted out “Semper Fi” the Marine Corps motto. He stopped, set down his tray, snapped to attention and saluted. Later, after eating, he came by to thank me for that simple acknowledgement of his service.
Troy was another regular at the Kitchen. He struck me as a young guy who was capable, but may have hit some hard times. After seeing him several weekends in a row, I finally went up and introduced myself. I found out he was working for an automotive supplier, making less than $9 an hour, but really wanted to work for the Detroit-based watch maker, Shinola. He took his meals at the Kitchen to stretch his money as far he could.
Then there was the conversation with the young man who had just been released from prison. He had served 24 years. His perspective on the then recent killings of young black men by police, and religion in prison was thought-provoking. His comments about police harassment of young blacks, and that in prison Christianity is viewed as the white man’s religion, were akin to a cry to “walk a mile in my shoes.”
In closing, while I may not have sat with someone during each and every meal that was served while I was at the Kitchen, in retrospect, I did speak with a number of folks, more than I realized, especially when trying to summarize them all within two pages! Reflecting on the experience gives me a lot more to ponder. It also leaves me thinking, there is a lot more to be and can be done.