Sunday, October 18, 2009

The best dinner-serving time ever

Well, almost. CityTeam's Recovery Center is less than 20 minutes' drive down 101 from our house, and we got there a few minutes after Salina and Katie Jo did. When we signed in, the receptionist confirmed that the chef was out on a break. We chatted with our friends and met "Sol," a recent graduate of the recovery program. Pretty soon a fellow came in, wearing an apron. I asked if he was the "chef du cuisine" (pardon my bad French). Otis introduced himself and we shook hands. He denied being the chef, though he admitted to being the lead cook (my French is worse than I thought). When he heard that our group wasn't all here yet, he wasn't in a big rush. "We can wait for 'em," he said, and headed back into the kitchen.

After a while a bunch of other folks showed up--from another church! It turns out that both our churches were told "I'll hold the 3pm-7pm slot for your group." As we would soon find out, though, there was plenty to do. Around that time, Stephen arrived, as did Tim and Susie.

I headed in toward the kitchen and told Otis about the population explosion we just had. "I'll tell the pantry man the good news," he said. Meanwhile, I headed back to the lobby and brought the two groups into the dining area.

Despite his earlier demurral, Otis really was the chief of the kitchen. "I need two young men to help rearrange the pantry." Two from the "River of Life" group went with the pantry man to restore order. "A team of two over here, and I'll show you how to work the dishwasher." He explained how to deal with the trays, silverware, etc. Stephen and I worked on some baking trays (when you bake a lot of chicken, grease happens!), bowls, strainers, etc. The lovely Carol worked on tables, countertops, etc., along with others from the River group. Around 4:30 there was a lull in the activity.

Otis told us that the big help was needed during and after dinner. I took a break in the dining area with "Jim", one of the residents who was actually assigned to pots and pans for the afternoon. He had a tattoo of praying hands on his left arm, and he told me a little of his story: his mother was a preacher, and he was baptized as a 10- or 11-year old. He asked me if we were from a church group, and we talked about our spiritual lives. The lovely Carol joined us after a while. It turns out that Jim used to drive a forklift and is now interested in getting a class-A license to drive trucks. "How can we pray for you?" Carol asked. He told us a couple of things and added, "We could pray right now!" We held hands and prayed for each other.

Pretty soon Otis came out of the kitchen, asking Jim to be in charge while he took a break. "Rock and roll in 5 minutes," he said, and headed toward the lobby. There was an announcement for the residents to come in for dinner. (There are not a lot of them.) They ate quickly, and some took positions near the doors. "Victor" was in charge of the water and the cups. He had a "Mel's" T-shirt on -- it said "original" too. We talked about the chain, the movie, and Philly cheese steaks. "A high-fat kind of deal," I remarked, and Victor stuck two thumbs up. "Yeah!" he said. I think he's got a fast metabolism.

Somewhere in there the folks from the River group loaded up 50+ dinner trays. They reminded me of grade school. I arranged the trays for rapid pickup -- stacked two deep on each of two shelves, and one deep on the serving counter. The lovely Carol worked with the dessert person behind the counter, to accelerate the whole process. Soon we were ready.

The door opened and the guests filed in. Victor led everyone in a short prayer, and the guests walked the by trays, each taking one. Otis watched them to make sure that once a person touched a tray, they took it. Can't have people touching a bunch of different trays; it would slow the line down to a crawl. "You touched it, you bought it!" he said.

I stood near Victor, keeping watch over some donated rolls/pastries (one package per guest) and, when Otis left, also over the line. "You touched that one; it's yours!" I called out to one guest. He didn't resist.

They were mostly men. Some had wheeled walkers -- I saw one put his tray onto the walker (he had a white hand-towel for it). He looked like he'd been a manager in a tech outfit -- I don't know how many tech workers have been laid off in Santa Clara county in the past year.

The room filled up pretty quickly. Victor told me that they don't usually get that many people. He explained to me about watching over the water spigot and the cups. Guests aren't allowed to help themselves to water; he's the only one authorized to touch the urn, because who knows what viruses these folks have on their hands. Someone came up to report major spillage; another guest had lost control of his tray.

Victor couldn't leave the water, so I trotted over there to see what was going on. It was the former tech manager. First, I asked him, did he get enough to eat? Yes, he was done. Not all that much had spilled onto the floor, and I tossed about half of it back onto the tray in a couple of seconds. "If you have a dustpan or something I can help clean..." he began.

“Idiot! Don't take away the guy's dignity,” I thought to myself. I told him I'd look for one, and took off with the tray. Otis said there ought to be a dustpan somewhere in the dining area, so I looked. No joy, but I did see mops in buckets. Grabbing a 3' length of paper towel (no perforations!), I raced back to the guy's table. We both picked up what was left on the floor, then I squeezed out a nearby mop so he could finish while I ran the garbage over to a trash can. He stood up and wielded the mop; when I got back, the floor looked fine. I thanked him and ran the mop back to its bucket.

Pretty soon, people started lining up for seconds, waiting first for everyone who hadn't yet had anything. The last guest come in, and the "seconds" people told him, "Go up to the front!" He hesitated, so I walked him up to where he could get his dinner.

Dinner was soon over, and the guests were gone. I gave Jim a hand with the dishes, mostly running stuff from the sinks to the storage shelves. I asked him about his daughters -- two are local, and he has three grandchildren nearby. Others worked various cleanup tasks. I'm sure Tim took at least a few hundred photos.

It was pretty cool working with the residents. They're asking the Lord to help them get their lives back together. They aren't pretentious -- they know they need help. And the staff: they're great. They're pros. They're serving the Lord and bringing glory to him.

What a great thing, to be a part of that!

No comments: