Improving Our Serve

Last night on the street was pretty amazing! There was a line stretching all the way across the park, before we were even unloaded. It was the last Thursday of August, so we should expect this. We had plenty of food and we had plenty of volunteers. I brought turkey vegetable soup, hundreds of sandwiches, a case of pastries, eight gallons of iced tea, a baking tray of pasta and sauce, cups, forks spoons, napkins, hot sauce and no ladle. The Philoptochos Society of Holy Annunciation made and brought 175 meatball sandwiches wrapped in foil, green salad, rolls and I don’t know what else. Someone brought peanuts, peaches and apples. I won’t attempt to name all of the volunteers, because they don’t want me to and I would forget some and some I don’t know. With such a bounty of good food it was hard to maintain order, even though there was plenty for everyone.

I had conversations with a few of the volunteers, after the crowd dispersed, about how we need to raise our level of organization and come to terms with appropriate etiquette for serving on the street. I am going to try to address some of the concerns that were raised here; others will be addressed to individuals and in Q & A sessions that I hope can be organized. This is in the interest of safety, order and to try to improve our service as ambassadors of God’s mercy, as we serve in Jesus’ Name.

Most important is that we must serve without “respect of persons;” that’s Bible speak for “discrimination”. The people whom we serve are our brothers and sisters and are to be treated with respect and without judging. We need to treat everyone with respect and humility. We are not there to flaunt how Christian we are. We are there to meet Christ in his distressing disguise and hopefully, possibly, mercifully, by God’s surprising grace, become worthy of the name Christian. (We need to treat all of the other volunteers with respect, as well.)

Be willing to take direction and recognize who is and who is not authorized to give it. “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians” as the old saying goes (that is probably not politically correct anymore) leads to chaos. On the street, I am in charge and I expect to be heard and responded to. If I ask you to move to a different position or task or to do something in a different way, please respond quickly. Sometimes it is just a result of my judgment from having done this for over twenty years. Sometimes it is to try to maintain order. Sometimes it is for your safety or the safety of the group. I am willing to learn and make changes. Discussion comes later. I tend to be pretty loosey-goosey, but I have found that I have a lower tolerance for chaos at 55 than I did at 29. I expect parents to watch their children and give them direction. If I know I am not going to be there, I will designate someone else to be in charge in my place, and I expect him or her to be treated with more respect than I am accorded. Yes. “Safety is of the Lord.” We pray with our eyes open.

Don’t offer too many choices. This comes into play almost every week with the dessert pastries. Open one or two things at a time and give the people in line a choice of those. Too many choices paralyze people and it certainly slows down the line. If someone spots something that is not opened yet and wants that instead, politely, but firmly tell them that this is what is available now. They may have some or not. This is ultimately fair. Why should the last person in the line have a more limited choice than the first?  This also applies to the hot food at times. If we have a big crowd, we may have to serve the hot food in series to make sure everyone gets at least something for firsts. If there is enough, perhaps people can get the other choice for seconds.

Helpers do not get special privileges. The guys or gals that help unload or help serve do dot get extras set aside for them. If they are in need, they may have the usual share. Leftovers are not leftovers until everyone, including stragglers, have been served. All volunteers are to serve out of an attitude and position of charity. We do not “hire” anyone to help, nor are we going to be party to cons. What we give, we give freely. None of us, regardless of our economic standing, gives to receive.

Cook healthy, not fancy. We don’t want to attract more people to our location, because we have the fanciest, tastiest food in the city on Thursday nights. We want to meet the needs of those who live there. A special treat every now and then is a good thing. Too often and it becomes an expectation that we may not be able to afford to meet. We had a mob scene the other week when Denise brought fried chicken. And it would not have mattered if she had 300 pieces to give away. Let’s concentrate on healthy. The green salad was a wonderful touch last night. So many men commented last month when the ladies brought the salad that it seemed like years since they had had a fresh, green salad. More fresh fruit and fresh vegetables are good. We should try to avoid anything that resembles fast food and work to serve slow food, like what used to be served around common, family, dinner tables. Think of Thursday nights as an extension of our kitchen tables to those who rarely get to sit at one.

Have Fun! Thursday nights (and the last Tuesdays) are the highlights of my weeks. I had a terrible day yesterday. I was feeling useless and depressed. It was one of those days where I just felt like quitting everything. At the same time, I was roasting the turkey, then making the soup, stocking the car (sans ladle) and working on icons. Then I drove down to the city. I was bummed that no one was riding shotgun with whom to share music, conversation and Altoids. Then I arrived at 1801 Vine and the fun began! Yes, there was chaos. Yes there were arguments. But there was plenty of food to go around, for everyone to get something then and more to take with them for Friday. All of the volunteers truly wanted to be there. And on a purely selfish note, I felt useful, (even though ladle-less).

The King’s Jubilee Annual Picnic

On Sunday, August 15, we hosted what has become our annual potluck picnic for everyone involved in The King’s Jubilee at our home in Souderton. Only about 70 people were here in the rain. Becky Glykeria Pietronuto attended via telephone. She called Constantine and his phone got passed around to various people for about an hour. I say “only 70″ because I know of at least that many more people who are involved in one way or another and couldn’t make it. Holy Ascension had a Baptism that afternoon, so that meant the McGraws couldn’t come. That’s 11 people right there. We grilled a turkey, a boneless pork loin, hot dogs, hamburgers, chorizos and mini meat loaves on the Weber Kettle. There was a full array of salads, vegetables, desserts, fruit, wine and iced tea. We were just a little short on beer. It rained or drizzled on and off, but the kids had fun popping the bubbles coming out of the bubble machine on the balcony.

Unfortunately, because of the weather, we did not have a time with everyone in one place to discuss the ministry and future vision, like last year. But everyone tells me that they had a good time. I know I did.

Mark your calendar now for next year’s picnic on Saturday, August 20, in Souderton, God willing.

Back From the Dead

Last Thursday, August 12, as we were unloading the car at 1801 Vine, one of our regular customers told us that he had found his friend Kevin, another regular, dead, and the ambulance had just taken away his body. Fr. Noah prayed a short memorial for him right there by the car. When we blessed the food, we sang Memory Eternal.

We proceeded to serve turkey vegetable soup, loaded with the overflow of a couple of backyard gardens. We also served penne and sauce, iced tea, orange juice, pastries, hard boiled eggs, fresh nectarines and sandwiches. Donita Denise showed up with a couple of roaster pans full of fried chicken. Man, you would have thought we had just announced that we were giving out $100 bills! She was mobbed. There was no containing the line. She was surprised at how many people there were. I explained to her later that it is August and August is our biggest month. Philadelphia’s fiscal year starts September 1. City funded shelters and programs start running out of money in May and more continue to drop out through the Summer. The first thing they cut is the meals. Plus, some homeless outreach programs are college based, so are not active during the Summer. I anticipate that Tuesday, August 31, will be our biggest night of the year. (If you can help with sandwiches or fruit or cookies, it would be greatly appreciated. We will also need more hands to distribute the meal that night.)

Just about as we were getting to the end of the line, a police car stopped in the middle of Vine St. next to the TKJ-mobile. I quipped that someone had reported the ruckus over the fried chicken. We finished serving. I gave out the Univest “groovy” T-shirts and the underwear that Mary from Holy Annunciation had brought down. Then Kevin’s friend told us that the police had come back to let him know that they had administered CPR to Kevin and he was revived at the hospital. Praise God!

Kudos to the policeman who took the time and effort to come back and let the guys on the street know Kevin’s status. This was a true human act of kindness.

That was a first for me; to sing a memorial for someone whose heart had stopped, then came back to life. Pray for Kevin. We hope to hear a good report tonite of continued recovery.

Meal on the Street Coffee Hour

On July 11, The King’s Jubilee sponsored a “meal on the street” coffee hour after the Liturgy in the great room of St. Philip Antiochian Orthodox Church, Souderton, PA. I made a 22 quart kettle of soup, several families made sandwiches. We cut up a watermelon and put out nine pounds of clementine oranges. Ken made iced tea. We served the soup like we do in Philadelphia: out of a cooler into paper hot cups. We offered hot sauce and salt and pepper. I was tempted to serve it in the parking lot to add authenticity, but was afraid that we would lose too many people in the 94° heat. Another major difference from the street is that Simeon and Benjamin worked the crowd with large baskets, collecting donations for The King’s Jubilee. The response was amazing! Even though it was the middle of Summer and a number of families were on vacation, over $1200 was collected. Praise God!

This will help us keep the TKJ-mobile roadworthy and help address some critical needs to hopefully enable us to expand this ministry to every Tuesday in Philadelphia and continue to explore possibilities in Delaware.

Thank you, St. Philip’s! And thank you, Simeon and Benjamin, for being such persuasive spokesmodels.