The bacon was the best part. Everyone agreed – even George, the shelter resident whose weary black eyes belied his quick smile and spritely demeanor. Initially partial to the homemade, vanilla-infused waffles, George quickly changed his vote once I revealed I had played bacon chef all morning.
For two hours last Sunday, our family prepared breakfast at a local homeless shelter with five other volunteer families. While I hoped we would glean some teachable moments from the experience (and some fodder for a blog post), my goal was to complete the community service requirement for our daughters’ school. I didn’t give much thought to the human connections we might make.
With only one hour to prepare a buffet spread worthy of a Michelin rating, we chopped and stirred, sautéed and diced while chatting with our fellow volunteers.
Our nine year old, Ava, played sous chef; her proficiency cracking eggs matched only by her ability to simultaneously make a new friend.
While my husband, Mike, quartered muffins and arranged them artfully on a platter, I cooked bacon for the masses and supervised our four year old’s placemat decorating efforts. Rhys lovingly drew rainbows on exactly two placemats. After encouraging her to quicken her pace, she replied, “I am an artist, mom. Don’t rush me.”
Once we’d prepared enough food to feed the Duggar family for a month, the volunteers sat down with shelter residents for a meal to rival any four-star restaurant.
“This is better food than I have at home!” Ava yelled, raising a slice of caramelized porcine goodness. The residents giggled and applauded her enthusiasm.
“Do I smell like bacon?” I asked, sitting down next to George.
“Best smell in the world, darlin’,” George said, grabbing another slice. “We’re lucky to have so many good cooks here today.”
Mike and George hit it off quickly, talking about Chicago winters and sports teams. After a few bites of cheesy eggs, even Rhys warmed to George, teasing him about eating all the bacon.
George was surprised by how many people volunteered daily at the shelter. “When I get out of here, I’m volunteering too. Pay it forward, you know.”
As we left the shelter, George, who had been out for a post-breakfast walk, approached us wearing a sky blue windbreaker, five layers too light for the frigid March morning. After thanking us for the meal, he walked away, tears streaming down his weathered face.
“Why is he crying, Dad?” Rhys asked.
“I’m not sure. Maybe he’s sad he doesn’t have a home of his own. Or maybe he’s lonely,” Mike replied. “I wish I’d given him a hug.”
At bedtime as I tucked Rhys under her stack of warm blankets, she asked, “Mom, why was George crying today?”
“I don’t know, honey. Maybe his heart took in more love today than he’s used to. I bet he was happy he got to meet you.”
She wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled me close enough to whisper, “I think he really wanted more bacon!”
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