Saturday, September 4
We had gorgeous weather and a full, fantastic crew of volunteers this week. It makes ALL the difference to have enough volunteers serving in order for others to mill around and chat with the people who are most in need of a friendly ear. (More on our wonderful volunteers in Tuesday’s volunteer appreciation post.) We had several guests who needed a little extra conversation or help this week:
Volunteer Jill looked out for Keesha, who said she had just been released from the hospital after a car accident and was waiting for her family to pick her up. She was using a wheelchair and was clearly exhausted. Jill brought her a chicken salad sandwich and mango iced tea, and after she ate, Keesha dozed off in her chair for a while. A safe and welcoming place to rest can be hard to find, especially for women. Our serving location (a shady patio-like spot set back from the sidewalk and surrounded by a high brick wall) works well for people who need a safe space to rest. We are happy to have them stop with us for a while and look out for them while they're with us.
When we pulled into the alley to unload our cars, there was a man leaning on a pillar nearby yelling loudly and incoherently. Once our first group of guests was served, I walked over with a bottle of water and a bag lunch for him as he didn’t seem able to budge from his spot. When I got close, I saw his face and the name on his hospital wristband: Jerome. The same Jerome who had gotten so dehydrated a few weeks ago that he had to be hospitalized, and then came back the next week to thank us for helping him. Fortunately, several of his friends were keeping a close eye on him and knew his health issues well. His friend Earl managed to get him to drink a bottle of water and it was clear he had been and would continue to take good care of Jerome. I’ll be watching anxiously for them both next week.
I talked with a new guest named James who had just finished work. He cleans up illegally dumped trash for a city contractor from 6am-noon most days. He apologized for his jeans being so dirty from all the junk he’d been hauling. I thanked him for doing that hard and important work. He said that he used to be a chef at an assisted living facility in Philadelphia and showed me his Pennsylvania driver’s license and his Serv Safe food handling certification card. He said he wished he hadn’t come back to Baltimore as it is a much harder city than Philly.
A guest named John was a huge help this week from start to finish. When volunteers Terri and Barbara showed up early to clean up the serving area, John jumped right in to help. He then helped load and unload cars, and I also saw him checking on people on the fringes who seemed to be struggling, like our friend Jerome.
On the menu front, this week I debuted Sue’s Famous Chicken Salad, which is famous because I said so, but reviews are positive so far. One guest looked at me VERY skeptically when I told him it was my new, special recipe, and he clearly accepted a sandwich just to humor me. But then he came back to give me an elbow bump and tell me it really was good, so my day was made.
Some weeks our regulars turn up looking better than others; this week seemed to be a rougher one all around. I struggle every week with wishing we could do more, offer more as our guests’ needs are so varied, complex, and deep. What we can do is provide a warm welcome, delicious food, and a conversation with someone who looks you in the eye and listens to your story. As I plan for the future of Love & Cornbread, I am working on recruiting more volunteers for the listening role in particular from the Penn North community. I want there to be more people who look like our guests and who share their lived experience volunteering behind and in front of our tables. When we started, it was just me and my barbershop friend Coach, side by side, week after week, and I could not have put down roots in this space without his support. But now I need to be more intentional and proactive about making connections in the neighborhood, beyond the guests who sometimes volunteer with us spontaneously. We can always do better.
Stats: 72 Sue’s Special Chicken Salad sandwiches, 72 bag lunches, 5 bunches of bananas,70 clementines, 5 gallons mango iced tea, 5 gallons iced water, and 80 water bottles. We also gave out 40+ toothbrushes and toothpaste and 300+ masks.