We’ve been in Boston for a few days now, but because we arrived on Saturday evening, today (Monday) was our first day of service! We were all up bright and early–whether that was by choice or not–and scooted our way through the frigid Boston monring cold and a few T-stops to our community partner, Community Servings. Community Servings is a volunteer-run nonprofit in Jamaica Plains that prepares and delivers meals to Bostonians who are chronically ill. Its logo of a steamy soup bowl is painted on the outside of the building.
The kitchen buzzed around us, clearly having been in full swing since dawn, but first things first. We sat around a table and within a half an hour were debriefed by Melissa, the volunteer manager, on enough information to pass any food management certification test out there. Since Community Servings’ recipients generally have extremely compromised immune systems, kitchen protocol and hygiene are of utmost importance. We all fit on hairnets, then washed our hands for the strict 20-seconds (at LEAST), then added on our aprons, then non-latex gloves. We looked fantastic. We also were slowly realizing how critical the use of our hands is. Even pushing your glasses up on your nose or rubbing a tiny itch on your face is cause for a hand wash and glove change, starting at square 1. The journey had begun.
Some of us chopped vegetables while others stirred gigantic pots; some worked in swift assembly lines; some manned the packaging machine. The whole kitchen was a well-oiled machine, the staff and more experienced volunteers directing us kindly–but not in a babying way–around our duties. The radio blasted song after song, and no one missed the opportunities to dance as they worked. Side conversations and duets were constantly popping up all over the kitchen. We were amazed and encouraged by how healthy and tailored to each individual’s medical needs each part of each meal was, and by how much and how genuinely the staff cared for every single product going out to recipients. It was pretty inspiring.
The kitchen staff and volunteers themselves were quite the bunch. We felt more and more welcomed by them by the minute. One woman was there because her husband was in treatment and received Community Servings’ foot packages, so she volunteers most days out of the week. Another volunteer spoke mostly Spanish, but that didn’t stop him from joking around with non-Spanish speakers. There were two girls about our own ages who’d been volunteering for a while. A woman who’d worked there for years danced around with everyone around her with the spunkiest energy I’ve ever seen on anyone, made more impressive by her older age and by how much progress in bagging lunches she was accomplishing at the same time.
By 4 pm, we could feel the day spent on our feet, and the rawness of dozens of washes on our hands (the team calculated that we collectively washed our hands 190 times today, or for 3,800 seconds, the equivalent being just over an hour). The subway ride back to Boston International Hostel was a relief to be able to sit down and a triumph in realizing how well the day had gone, and how much we enjoyed the organization with which we’ll be spending the next week. After a dinner of tacos in the hostel cafeteria, we had a great reflection in a circle of couches, we tossed some thoughtful ideas around about the organization and how we are fitting into it. Solid talk. Also a talk tinged with some slight exhaustion-caused delirium from the long day. We settled down into an evening of doing some work and going for a night stroll around the city, but our ridiculously energy-filled group was all snoring away by just after 11 pm so we can wake up tomorrow and do it all over again, and more.