Today is St. Patrick’s Day and I’m not too big into holidays, and fault me if you like, but I’m not into spending half of my Sunday in church, either. I’d much rather spend a day like today planning for the upcoming week and/or directly serving the people. I personally think that’s an even trade-ff. I don’t think God won’t be too mad at me for skipping church to service my people, but oh well. I digress. We set a community service goal this month and up until today, we had none; so, I thought it was imperative that we get out and do something soon. I really want the bros to see how to set goals and then work diligently to persiste to reach them if not flat-out overachieving. So today, we successfully and remarkably fulfilled our Manhood Standards 8 and 9 (there are 11 total that I drill in their heads. Just click on the tab above and you’ll see them all). Standard 8, Brother’s Keeper, is all about being there for one another–loyalty and reliability. Standard 11 is called “The Breakfast Program” or simply put, “The People“. It states that every real man is a selfless giver who is undoubtedly committed to the healthiness of his community and it’s people. I named it after the Black Panther Party’s breakfast program in which they set up free meal programs and health clinics in their communities.
We started our day early this morning at around 9:30 or so and made the 20 minute journey to our destination at Trinity United Methodist Church located in downtown Atlanta. Now I’ve worked in a soup kitchen several times before and so had one of the other young bros I brought with me, but I don’t think either of us was prepared for what our day was about to be. In my life, I’ve worked at Food Fare (local grocery store), Golden Coral, and Chik-Fil-A, and I don’t think I ever worked that hard in no one’s kitchen! Almost immediately, we were put in charge of the chilli. There were two huge, stainless steal pots (they were more than just a traditional pot around the house; I just don’t know the proper term for them) that the coordiator told us that we would use these to cook the chilli in. Well thankfully, we didn’t actually have to make it. There was a also church group there who had many of their members cook it and place into big Ziplock bags. There were about 30 bags. Seriously. So our first task was to cut open all the bags and dump the frozen chilli into the pots to melt them down, a heating process that took up the better part of an hour.
Here we are churning away.
Believe it or not, there is actually a little skill involved in churning. You have to grab the big wooden spoons seen above, get down to the bottom of the pot, pull up and twist as you break surface of the chilli. You want the contents of the top of the pot to get the opportunity to get down to the bottom where its hotter, and vice versa. It probably seems easy from reading this, but trust me, it’s not as easy as it sounds, especially when you have frozen brick-hard chunks of chilli you need melted down in 30 minutes before the first 50 patrons walk through the door expecting a hot meal. Much of the joking stopped as we began to feel the pressure of the hour, and more “elbow grease” was needed to break up the large chunks of what we began to call “icebergs”, the huge blocks of chilli left unfazed by 100+ degree heat. Churn, baby, churn! We sweated profusely and barely had time to sit down and rest. No pun or disrespect intended, but it was like that reality show, “Hell’s Kitchen”. We were moving as fast as we could to get the bowls filled with rice and chilli and out into the hands of waiting guests.
Sheer teamwork. Had someone filling the handing out the bowls; someone to fill them with rice’ someone to fill them with chilli; pass the bowls off to someone at the open-counter to be passed to another volunteer who would serve the hungry gentleman and gentlewomen seated at the tables.
In the end, we served close to 200 of Atlanta’s homeless. I took a picture of the data sheet one of the other volunteers was keeping, but I idiotically deleted it. Here’s what I remember:
- Served 186 total
- 166 African-American (about 10 women)
- 2 Asians
- 12 Hispanics
- 6 whites
These numbers are not 100% accurate. I told you I deleted the photo of the data sheet. I do know, however, that we did in fact serve 186 people and 166 of them were African-American. The number stuck out to me like the elephant in the room. I can’t help but to ask myself what factors contribute to this dilemma; its a socio-economical enigma that I wholeheartedly believe isn’t being addressed, or pursuing as actively as it should be. Is the achievement gap and dropout rate linked to homelessness? How so? How do the rising rates of alcoholism, drug addiction, family structure and background, and mental health problems such as depression and bipolarism impact the numbers of potential homeless Black men and women. What proactive measures can be taken to ensure our youth are not sucucmbed to the same fate?
Anyway, it turned out to be a GREAT day! We worked very hard and absolutely every bit of sweat was worth it. I’ll do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, we ARE going to do it again. See you again next week!
RIP, thanks, and in memory of Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Mark Clark, Bobby Seale, Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party.