Sometime during the spring of 2003, I volunteered to join a team that came in once a month to prep and serve food at Sally’s Kitchen, The Salvation Army’s soup kitchen in Battle Creek, Michigan. The Salvation Army has a reputation for helping people through activities I believe in. People I know personally have benefited from children’s afterschool programs, emergency disaster services, and food baskets at Christmas and Thanksgiving.

The people who come to Sally’s work, don’t work, live alone, have families, eat a lot or eat just a little. Being able to get one hot meal in 24 hours has been the case for some. Others come in because they’re trying to stretch their grocery money.

I saw right away from behind the counter that the kitchen has its “regulars.” They’re all different, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know many of them over the years. But that started by simply asking someone his or her name.

Not everyone who comes to Sally’s wants conversation. But there was Alan. I sat across from him one day during my break and we engaged in some small talk.

“Sure was nice to get all that rain,” I said. “The farmers needed it.”

“I don’t like the rain,” Alan countered. “We have to find shelter inside and sometimes we get kicked out, even if it’s a vacant building.”

Alan went on to tell me other difficulties he and some friends had finding a home when they had none. He got choked up telling me about a friend who’d died alone in one of those vacant buildings. Up until then, I’d been sympathetic to the problem of homelessness, but Alan made it real to me.

Not everyone has a sad story about why they come to eat. Sometimes they sit with friends to gab and catch up on each other’s lives. People like Val are fun to be with. She works as a home health aide and likes cookies. Whenever we serve cookies, Val asks, without fail, for two.

I tell her, without fail, “Everyone gets one cookie.”

She grumbles, albeit with a smile, then I see her in the dining room with a stack of cookies on her tray. Her friends come through. That’s something else I love about the kitchen—the fellowship.

But people come and go. We lose track of some. Others we know will be there again tomorrow.

I can talk about them like this because I’m now a regular!

Circumstances kept me away from the dining room for about a week and when the dishwasher asked about my absence, he said, “We haven’t seen you in a while. I wondered if you’re OK.”

I can’t tell you how much I felt cared for in that moment.

Loving Her Neighbour
Folks at Sally’s are like family. When we haven’t seen a Sally’s regular for a while, we try to find out if they’re OK. Usually, they’re fine, but it’s always nice to know. Some ask, “How are you?” and really mean it. We take care of one another. We’re a special community.

God led me to serve at the kitchen and now I have a passion for it. I’m grateful for opportunities to learn to be more flexible, to chill out, to learn teamwork, to realize that my way isn’t the only way.

However, I think the best thing God did for me as I’ve served over the years is teach me how to better love my neighbour. That’s one of the best lessons anyone can learn. I’ve learned to love them no matter their situation and regardless of their skin colour, age, level of education or anything else by which I might have judged them before I started volunteering at The Salvation Army.

God is still teaching me and I’m grateful for that. Whichever side of the counter I’m on, I want to keep learning. And loving.

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