Food for the Body, Food for the Soul
This Thanksgiving I had the opportunity to serve with two amazing organizations, Be the Cause* and the UCO Drop In Center in Long Beach. Run by Brad Lara-Gagne and his team of tireless staff and volunteers, the center is open 47 Sundays throughout the year to feed the homeless. I had the pleasure of speaking to him the previous night and his dedication to the Center is apparent.Â Over the years, he and the center have developed an amazing network in the community, the organizations helping one another out whenever they can. When one has a surplus of food, it makes sure to pass it along to another who can use it, never allowing the goods to go to waste. Brad has also cultivated relationships with local establishments such as Panera, who donates their excess baked goods to the center every week. For the Thanksgiving dinner, there were originally only 6 large pies (baked by a generous donor) to distribute amongst all the guests – until Trader Joeâ€™s showed up that morning with 60 more pies.
Sonali Fiske of Be The Cause organized a group of volunteers for this special Thanksgiving event at the center. On Thursday morning, we set to task â€“cutting pies, separating baked goods, organizing the clothing donation closet, etc. Before the guests arrived, Sonali gathered the volunteers together for introductions and a quick pep talk. â€œThe whole idea is to treat each person as though they are a guest in your homeâ€¦I know it sounds cheesy, but itâ€™s all about love. Thereâ€™s a lot of love in that food.â€ One of the volunteers admitted she was there because of her young daughter.Â She had told her mom that instead of going to dinner, â€œI want to do something better. I want to go and feed the homeless.â€ What a wonderful reminder that children, too, have the ability to inspire action and kindness.
While I was greeting guests at the front door, I had the opportunity to witness the various interactions â€“the children smiling and having a great time at the arts and crafts table with Adnan and Norma; the diners conversing with the volunteers; the kitchen staff preparing and plating the meals; the dj spreading the joy of music; and all of the others in action. I noticed one of the volunteers sitting at the tables and speaking to several of the guests. Leny (who works with Corazon de Vida Foundation) came to the event with her husband and children. When asked what inspired her to spend Thanksgiving at the center, she responded, â€œItâ€™s not only the food. Itâ€™s about spending time with them [the homeless]. Some people might assume bad things about them, but they donâ€™t know how someone got there. Everyone has a different story.â€ For her, it was important that her children get in touch with their community. â€œYou know, it is a beautiful experience for me, but especially for my kids. I donâ€™t know what they will do when they are older but I want them to have this experience.â€
I also had the opportunity to speak to a local reporter who was covering organizations in the area hosting Thanksgiving dinners for the homeless. This was her fourth stop and she seemed really impressed. I joked with her, â€œI bet weâ€™re the only one with a DJ.â€ (DJ Sukh was generously spinning his music for the event.) She agreed that she hadnâ€™t seen anything like it and that the music was a great addition. â€œYeah, itâ€™s great. â€˜All the Single Ladiesâ€™ was a big hit in there,â€ she said. â€œEveryone was moving around in their chairs!â€ It hadnâ€™t occurred to me that having music at such an event would be so appreciated but music is food for the soul after all, so it isnâ€™t surprising that it brought smiles to so many faces.
As the diners exited, they thanked us, blessed us, and wished us a Happy Thanksgiving. There was one man in particular who had a profound affect on me. As he walked out of the dining hall, he looked at me and said, â€œthank you for feeding me.â€ My hand went to my heart and I was speechless. After a moment, all I could muster up was, â€œyouâ€™re so welcome.â€ I stood there for several minutes pondering the gravity of his words â€“â€œthank you for feeding me.â€ I thought about how the weather was getting colder and wondered if he would have a place to stay warm. I couldnâ€™t help but feel a renewed sense of gratitude for the everyday things that we so often take for granted.
A sincere thanks to everyone who took part in the event, and for allowing me to be a part of it – I continue to be inspired and humbled by all of you.
For more information on the organizations, go to:
*Founded in 2002 in response to the 9/11 attacks, Be the Causeâ€™s mission is to create meaningful opportunities for service. Through the efforts of volunteers and donations, BTC has organized over 400 projects in numerous countries.