You are SO going to enjoy this peek into the life of Ms. Dot. Not only is her life interesting, but you can tell she enjoys serving others. Enjoy this guest post and please feel free to comment or ask questions in the comments section. Ms. Dot will be able to answer any questions that you have. And now our first edition of “A Day in the Life of . . .”
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF MS. DOT–SOUP KITCHEN VOLUNTEER
(Ms. Dot is with her husband and niece in this photo.)
When my husband retired 3 1/2 years ago from farming, we started a new venture. We went West. After a year of living in an apartment off and on out there, we bought a house. We volunteer at a Soup Kitchen 5 days a week. We wanted to do some kind of Christian outreach, and this works well for us. We come home to help the boys plant and harvest, but otherwise are out West.
(Photo of Ms. Dot’s husband in western attire.)
Depending on what our role is for the day, we arrive at the Soup Kitchen at 7 am or 8:30 am. At 7, there usually isn’t anyone there but the dishwasher waiting to be let in. Most of the time we go at 8:30, so I will describe a day like that.
We arrive in our Ford Ranger pick-up and it takes this bag lady a few minutes to stash her purse behind the seat, put the sunglasses on the visor and get the Diet Coke out of the cup holder, and pick-up any other things like new aprons, Sunday school papers, calendars, Bibles, etc. We have to wait a minute while some of the guys get out of our way so we can park. Depending on the time of the month, they may be drunk, or not. . .yes, at 8:30 in the morning. Then, if nobody has the back door open, we ring the doorbell to be let in, having lots of greetings from the guys sunning against the building. Some days the “hobo heater” works pretty well.
Somebody opens the door for us and we walk into the break room, being greeted by volunteers and community service workers. We get our aprons on and figure out what is going on and decide how we can help–if nobody tells us. Some days I am just a flunky, some days I am the cook, and some days, I am the Boss Lady. We usually have anywhere from 8 – 15 people working on any given day. We have church groups and individuals who volunteer. We also have people court ordered to do community service there. Most of the time we have one or two girls from the drug rehab working. We have some community service workers who aren’t being punished, but who are working for food stamps, housing or financial assistance. We have to learn new names and faces almost every day. It’s pretty easy for me, but not my husband!
In the winter, the work is much lighter because we don’t have fresh produce to process. But, we still have days of peeling potatoes, chopping onions, etc. We have someone different every day coming to pick up food, clothes, and anything we have gotten in that we can’t use. We get donations from almost all of the grocery stores in town, all four Starbucks, the Convention Center, produce stands, farmer’s markets, and many other places. Sometimes someone will just ring the doorbell and hand us a ham or turkey or some canned goods. The Soup Kitchen is run solely on donations.
Whoever the cook is for the day gets the food ready and puts it in the oven first thing. We save whatever bread we need for that day and send the rest out. A typical meal would consist of a main dish, a starch, a cooked vegetable, salad, bread or roll, and a dessert. One of the first things we do is make a salad. Sometimes if we don’t have salad greens on hand, we use cottage cheese and/or fruit.
We unlock the front door at 9am unless it is very cold or windy, then we open it sooner. We serve doughnuts, coffee, juice and milk from 9 to 10. By this time, the oven would have been turned on.
While all this is going on, there is a lot of interaction going on among the workers and the clients. One of the things we do is cruise the parking lot, looking for substances that aren’t allowed on the property, such as pot, liquor, and dogs. When they see me coming, the say, “O, &*%$#@, here comes Ms. Dot. Hide everything.”
When we get a truck load in from a grocery store, we have to sort everything to figure out what to keep and what to send out. We keep the cakes, the milk, juice, cottage cheese, and bread for the day. We separate the bread and pastries and rebox them to go out. When we get food from the Convention Center, we put it all in our pans, figure out what we are going to use that day, freeze some, and anything that is a small amount we send to the Salvation Army to use. We have a huge blackboard with a list of all the food frozen in aluminum pans and all the 1/2 gallon bags of already prepared food. When we use something, we erase it and when we put something in the freezer we list it on the board. We can look at the list and decide what to cook for the next day if we need to.
At 10, all the morning stuff is put away, the tables are wiped and the dining room cleaned up. Today is Wednesday, and it is one of our busiest days. Gary is out there starting to wipe the tables down. Let me explain about Gary. He is working for food stamps and when he gets done with that, he comes almost every day to volunteer and drives us all crazy. We are convinced he has Asperger’s. He’s 40 and lives with his mother if that gives you a clue. He is very OCD. This particular day he had dyed his hair cherry red. It’s not blatant because his hair is naturally very dark, but it’s red. He has a cowlick that sticks straight up in back. Somebody mentioned Woody Woodpecker, so we are lost for the rest of the day. We try not to say anything to him about his hair because he wants everybody to notice it. We are bad. Two teenage girls are doing community service. It is their first day, and they are scared to death. I tell them to go help Gary, but if he hassles them, come tell me or Ms. Carolyn. (Ms. Carolyn is the director.) Nobody can do anything good enough for Gary!
While we are doing food prep or whatever, there are lost of other things going on and lots of interruptions. Somebody needs a Walmart sack, somebody else wants to use the phone. Somebody else just wants to tell us his/her troubles. We are giving out sack lunches to those who have to go to work. You really have to watch, because they will lie and come back for a hot lunch, too.
The donation from two Starbuck’s, the State Hospital, and the Chemical Dependency Unit have come in. Now we have to figure out what to do with it. The Starbuck’s stuff is counted and place in our containers for the next day. If there is too much, it gets boxed up to go out. The food from the hospital is sorted. Today we have 8 half-gallon bags of red chili which we put in a milk crate and freeze. We have to write that on the blackboard so we know what we have in there Then, we save all the meat and veggies from the trays or containers. We stack the meat in one of our pans. Today we have 27 pieces of fried chicken, 4 pieces of sliced pork, some barbecued ribs, 14 hot wings, and some beef barbecue. We put the barbecue in a separate pan. We call this Mystery Meat. We will use it another day. If we get enough to serve tomorrow, we will do that.
Depending on the time of the month, we need anywhere from 80 – 150 pieces of meat to serve everybody.
The trucks are here from Boone. A family comes every Wednesday to take items back to their home town to distribute to the needy. We give them frozen meat, dairy products such as yogurt, pudding, storeroom items, bread, and pastries. They don’t turn anything down.
Today we have 40 gingerbread house kits in the storeroom along with some other stuff. We can’t keep dented cans, so we send those out. All of our donations for the day haven’t come in yet, so the folks will wait until the last truck comes in. We load up what we have.
There is Betty and her husband, (I don’t know his name), their son Dennis, their daughter Kelly, and sometimes her husband and 12-year-old son. She also has a six month old baby named Alyssa. She usually goes to sleep on the ride in. Today she is awake, so we fuss over her and pass her around while we are waiting for the truck to arrive. She is just starting to be afraid of us–seems like they all go through that stage.
Here comes Freddie. Freddie is one of our clients. He is slightly mentally challenged, chronically drunk, and usually has nasty stuff coming out of his nose. Freddie is actually not homeless–he lives with his mother and works sometimes as a bartender. I don’t know how he can keep a job–he has been kicked permanently off the city bus. Anyway, he says, “Ms. Dot, can you lend me $1.06?”
“Now Freddie, you know I never keep any money on me while I’m working. You’ll have to find somebody else.”
Strange amount, isn’t it? Well, they can buy a small one-shot bottle of whiskey for $1.06. We are always finding those little bottles in the parking lot.
Here comes the truck and they really have a load today. We don’t have rolls for lunch yet, so we keep those. They brought lots of milk and juice, so we keep those, too. No cakes today, so everything else is reboxed and just loaded on the truck from Boone. We put the things we kept in appropriate places.
In the cooler, we have cakes, cottage cheese, milk, juice, stuff for the sack lunches, and fresh produce. The milk, cakes, cottage cheese, and juice are organized according to date with the oldest on the left. We always go from left to right when using anything like that.
The oven buzzer is going off, so I take the food out and check the temperatures of the food. It has to be 160 degrees and maintain 140 in the steam table. The health department inspects us just like a restaurant and we have to follow all their regulations.
The food is ready. Today it is roast beef, mashed potatoes and green beans. I quickly make some gravy in a big pot. For today, I only make two gallons because we aren’t expecting a big crowd. I usually use a mix, but I add all kinds of things to it. All of this gets put into the steam table.
It’s about 10:30 and time to start cutting the cakes for dessert. It’s close to the first of the month, so we decide to only cut 80 desserts to start with. While the volunteers are doing that, I think maybe it’s time to cruise the parking lot again. As I come around the corner, Big Bert is sticking a crack pipe up his jacket sleeve. I say, “Okay, Big Bert, what was that? I saw that.”
He is holding his arm close to his body and hold his hand out. “It’s just my cigarette lighter, Ms. Dot, that’s all.”
Yeah, right. I let it go because I didn’t actually catch him smoking it.
While the volunteers are cutting the cakes, someone else puts the dressing on the salad and gets it into another pan and on ice to get ready to serve it. Our dishwasher, Dennis, comes around from the dishwashing area. “Ms. Dotty,” he says, “you should have seen what they fed us for supper at the group home last night.”
What was it this time?”
“It was just three little hunks of fat on a plate.”
“It was awful.” Dennis is mentally slow and needs a lot of supervision. He had a horrible life growing up. He was one of 14 children and his dad abused three of them.. He had his head beat up against a wall every day. He lives in a group home with 17 other men and the food is awful. They take money out of his meager paycheck to pay for it.
It is 10:45 and time for the people working to eat lunch. This is early, but we have to eat then, or we wouldn’t get a chance. This is usually a pretty fun time with everybody who can fit sitting around a round table. If we have overflow, they just sit wherever. Since I am the cook today, I assign everybody a job during the serving time. Usually the community service guys help with the dishes, but not always–depends on who is there and how many we have.
Today we have three guys, so that is good. They can help Dennis.
Rose, our little Mexican lady who is 92 is there, so she serves the veggies. We start serving at 11:15. Ms. Carolyn asks for three volunteers to clean the dining room.
A lot of times it’s the same people day after day. They get seconds even if we don’t have enough for seconds for everybody and a sac lunch to take home. Then, Ms. Carolyn says a prayer and we start serving.
The cleaners get to go through the line first. If I’m the cook, I don’t usually serve–depending on how many servers we have. I have assigned Gary to clean the break room because this takes him a whole hour and that keeps him out of everybody’s way.
I see two guys passing a canteen back and forth in the dining room, so I have to go see what’s in it. It is actually Kool-Aid today.
Here comes Rhonda (a Regular) and she is drunk as a skunk. She can’t even carry her tray, so I tell her she has to leave and next time she comes, she has to apologize to us before she can eat. We feed them when they are drunk if they can carry their own tray and not pass out at the table.
Here comes Wanda. “You got a guy outside that is so drunk he fell and hit his eye and it looks really bad.” Okay, so I go out to check it out. He has a huge knot over his eye and it is bleeding like crazy. I offer to call the paramedics but he says, “I’m out of here,” and leaves. He probably has a warrant and doesn’t want to be taken to the ER.
The cleaners clean the dining room as it empties out. We never really know how many we are going to have and sometimes we run out of food, so we make sure we have plenty of back up.
At 12:15, we put all the food in smaller containers and move everything so the steam table can be cleaned and the floors swept and mopped. At this point, it only takes one person to serve the food, so the others help with the clean up.
At 12:25 we lock the front door and pull the cart with the food into the Walk-in-Cooler. The dishwashers are the last to finish. They clean up their area and mop the floor. Everything is done except rinsing the mops–which takes Gary forever. Everybody has gone except Dennis, Mr. Dan, Carolyn, Gary, and I.
Finally, by about 12:40 everything is done and we can go home. Those doing community service have to get their papers signed. Carolyn does this if she is there, and I can do it, too.
So, our day is over at the Soup Kitchen. We take the containers back to the two Starbuck’s on the north side of town. As we drive around the building to leave, I notice a guy with a brand new can of beer in his hand. I hold my hand out the window and say, “I’ll have the beer.” He reluctantly gives it to me. Now, here we are with an opened can of beer in the Pick-Up. We don’t want to get arrested, so we drive around the alley to the dumpster and put it in there. We pour it out because if we don’t, that guy will climb in there and get it back out.
This has been a pretty slow day. :>) Nobody had a seizure or passed out. Nobody got in a fight , and we didn’t have to call the EMT’s or the police.
Thanks so much Ms. Dot for sharing a day of your life with us. I hope you enjoyed your first edition of “A Day in the Life of. . . .” I know I did. If anybody has any questions, just ask in the comments section. And! Any typos or spelling errors are mine, not Ms. Dot’s. Over and out.