The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wildwood Soup Kitchen Volunteer Appreciation Dinner

Last evening the Wildwood Soup Kitchen had its annual volunteer appreciation dinner, a time when the soup kitchen's board of directors thanks all the volunteers who make this ministry possible. It's also an opportunity to provide a brief recap of the previous year and inform our volunteers of any plans and changes that might affect them in the coming months. We gathered for the dinner at a local church -- New Covenant United Methodist Church -- that has the capacity to seat our large crowd of volunteers.

Although we took advantage of the church's professional cook to prepare the meal, he was ably assisted by members of the soup kitchen's board who also served and cleaned up afterward. And so the volunteers could share a delightful meal -- one they didn't have to cook and serve -- and could actually sit down together and engage in real conversation. This is not something we normally get to do in the midst of the organized chaos involved in the daily preparation, delivery and serving of 250 meals. It was a lovely evening.

We now have close to 150 volunteers, including cooks, kitchen helpers and servers, drivers, bakers, and a host of others who handle such tasks as writing the newsletter, buying food and paper products, maintaining the volunteer database, updating the website, fund-raising and more...much more. It's quite an operation and the fact that we accomplish so much without a single paid employee always astonishes me. But I am even more astonished, and thankful, that we do all this solely through the generous contributions of individuals, businesses, churches, neighborhood groups, and civic organizations. We receive no government funds and are still able to serve and deliver nearly 70,000 meals each year. It is truly God's work and He should receive all the praise and credit for what He has enabled us to do in His name. Remarkably, our volunteers represent nearly 30 area churches, men and women who come together not to focus on their differences but to accomplish what the Lord has called His disciples to do.

Every so often I am asked to speak about the soup kitchen to local organizations, and I always begin with that wonderful passage from Matthew 25:35,

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me..."
It's a passage we at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen have adopted as our guiding vision. And when I explain that, so long as they come in peace, we welcome everyone who comes to our door, no exceptions, I can usually expect someone to question this policy of unconditional service: "Don't you think that some of those people who come for a meal really don't need it, that they're just scamming you?" I always respond by saying, "Yep, there are probably a few, but that's not our worry. We let God take care of it. He just told us to welcome them and give them a meal, not to check their tax returns. And, at least so far, He's given us everything we need to do His will."

I also found the timing of the dinner to be perfect. The evening before Ash Wednesday is a good time to reflect on Jesus' call to alms-giving, prayer and fasting. It's a good time to recall why we feed the hungry and why we welcome the stranger who seeks our help. As Christians we don't do these things because they make us feel better about ourselves; we do them for God's greater glory.

Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomine tuo da gloriam -- Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory -- Ps 115:1]. These are wonderful words to keep in mind as we make this year's journey through Lent to the glory of Christ's Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Praise God in all things.

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