As is our custom on Thanksgiving, we gave our usual crew of Thursday volunteers the day off and solicited others to join us on this special day. We always have far more Thanksgiving volunteers than we can handle, and have to turn away some folks; otherwise we'd be tripping over each other. This year we probably accepted more volunteers than usual, and divided them into two shifts: one from seven to ten a.m., and the other from ten a.m. until one p.m. This made things a bit more manageable, but even then we still had a crowd.
The first shift -- which must have included at least 20 people -- assisted Diane as she prepared the meal. Diane and our regular Thursday team had already done much of the necessary prep work in advance. And many other regular soup kitchen volunteers had cooked and sliced turkeys earlier in the week. As I recall, these good folks cooked twelve or thirteen large turkeys for us. This still left a lot of work for our first shift volunteers, and as "Thursday Captain" (a rather overblown title), I tried to organize them into effective work groups. Everything seemed to go pretty well and the meal was ready on time. The first shift then served up 140 meals for delivery to shut-ins who live in Wildwood. Our volunteer drivers, who use their own cars (and gasoline), each deliver 30-40 meals...and what wonderful and generous folks they are!
At this point we encountered out first challenge: trying to get the first shift to quit and go home. They were enjoying themselves so much they didn't want to leave. Unfortunately we had about 30 people in the second shift waiting to take over. Finally Diane and I had to order all those happy first-shift volunteers to get out and make room for others.
At 10:30 a.m. we opened the doors to our guests, and served the meal between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Once again, though, we did things differently on Thanksgiving. Instead of having the guests pick up their own meals as they walk through the serving line, we met and greeted them as they arrived, took them to their seats, got them a drink -- coffee, iced tea, lemonade, etc. -- and then asked them to check off the menu items they would like. A volunteer then went through the serving line, filling the order, and took the meal to the guest. Another group of volunteers carried trays of desserts in the dining room, letting each guest choose which dessert he or she would like. It's really quite an operation, but thanks to all our enthusiastic and giving volunteers, it all went very smoothly.
The result was a record Thanksgiving Day. I never know whether to be pleased or upset when we break attendance records at the soup kitchen. I'm pleased and thankful that we have always been able to feed all those who come through our doors; but the fact that we must serve so many says a lot about the state of the economy. Including our delivered meals, we served nearly 330 meals on Thursday. On previous Thanksgivings our numbers were always much lower then this.
As always, our guests were truly appreciative and raved about the meal. Indeed, they liked it so much that many took a second meal home with them -- so many, in fact, that at the end of the day, we had virtually nothing left, another very rare occurrence. Next year we'll just have to cook more turkeys.
Of course, Diane and I couldn't have done any of this on our own. It was truly a joy that we were joined by all those good people who volunteered to give up part of their Thanksgiving to help others. What a blessing that so many were willing and able to be with us on this day of thanks!
Take some time today, and every day, to thank God for all that you have been given, and for your very being, for the gift of life you have received. Recall the words of St. Paul:
"What do you possess that you have not received? But if you have received it, why are you boasting as if you did not receive it?"[1 Cor 4:7]If you're interested in knowing more about the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, click here.