Monday, October 19, 2015

Working for a World Without Soup Kitchens

Aileen Mae Ryan

Growing up, I never worried about not having enough food. Every time I opened the pantry, my favorite meals were plentiful – pasta, bananas, PB&J sandwiches. I could eat whatever and whenever I wanted.

Three months into my service year at the Marquard soup kitchen, I’m rethinking my relationship with food. For too many of our guests, food is not plentiful; food is impossible, because it costs too much for guests to make their own dinners. For too many, their dinner at the Marquard is the first time they’ve eaten all day. Many don’t know what or when their next meal will be – quite a different experience than eating whatever and whenever.

Although I can’t change my privileged relationship with food, I can change my understanding of our guests’ relationships. On one hand, I understand that the food I make genuinely helps our guests. Whether I’m baking casseroles, chopping apples, or shredding chicken, I know our guests will directly benefit. Since we’re open for dinner every night of the year, I know our guests can count on me and my fellow volunteers. Our guests are some of the kindest and most compassionate individuals I’ve ever met, and I’m honored to work with such wonderful human beings.

On the other hand, even though my work feels meaningful, I wish this line of work wasn’t needed in the first place. I wish our guests didn’t have to survive on soup kitchens. I wish they could afford meals for themselves and for their families. It’s like I’m constantly throwing life rafts to sinking ships; if the ships didn’t keep sinking, we wouldn’t need any life rafts.

Knowing that people are starving on the streets, I know that I must keep serving at Franciscan Outreach. At the same time, I don’t need to accept that people are drowning. I don’t need to accept that the ships will always sink.