In Our Own Backyard...Of loaves and fishes and Sloppy JoesLast week I witnessed 30 pounds of hamburger disappear in under an hour.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Last week I witnessed 30 pounds of hamburger disappear in under an hour.
It wasn’t a “Buy One, Get One Free” promotion at a popular chain restaurant, or Taco Tuesday at the local high school cafeteria, and it wasn’t the semi-annual meat bundle sale at the neighborhood market.
It was our church’s night to serve dinner at the Churches United in Ministry (CHUM) drop-in center in Duluth’s Central Hillside neighborhood.
My husband, Ken, and I had taken our turn at serving dinner at CHUM about this time last year, and I can honestly say we walked away changed people. It seemed like so small an effort on our part – just an hour out of our lives to help serve dinner to some folks who were having a hard time getting by – but it drove home the reality of what being truly hungry is all about and how even so small a gesture can mean so much to those who receive it.
When the call went out for helpers this time, we decided to step up to the plate and volunteer our services once again. Some of the church ladies spent the afternoon making Sloppy Joes at the church kitchen that day, and all we had to do was dish them up and serve the rest of the dinner to whoever showed up.
As we and a couple of others were getting things ready in the kitchen of the drop-in center shortly before 5 p.m., the door cautiously swung open and one of the people who was there to eat dinner asked what we were serving. When we told him Sloppy Joes, he nodded his head and eased back out to the dining room to share the news with the others who were already starting to line up. It seemed like such an insignificant thing, but we later learned that it was, for many, the highlight of their day.
As soon as we raised the serving window to the kitchen, the action was non-stop for the next 45 minutes. A line of people stretched the entire length of the long, narrow room, and it moved slowly and steadily without stopping as we struggled to keep up with the demand. Our goal was to give everyone as much as he or she wanted, and in many cases we loaded their plates with two and sometimes three Sloppy Joes at a time, and then again as some came through for a second round.
One man came up just to ask us what we used in our Sloppy Joe recipe, and said he’d never made them before with green peppers and onions.
Another swept in just before 6 p.m., after all of the potato chips, pickles and bars were gone and we were starting to put away what little remained of the Sloppy Joe mixture. He said he had been delayed and hoped he could still get something to eat.
“I skipped lunch just so I could eat here tonight,” he explained breathlessly.
I told him we were all out of hamburger buns, but since I’d discovered some hot dog buns left over from a previous meal, I asked him if he’d mind using a couple of those.
He agreed in a heartbeat, and we were able to set him up with enough to eat to at least fill his stomach, and he seemed extremely grateful. A few others arrived late as well, and when the hot dog buns were gone, one of them said he’d be fine just eating a bowl of the Sloppy Joe mixture, and that’s exactly what he did.
We were just getting ready to close the serving window when, one by one, a number of people began to come up and thank us for the dinner. After the second or third one, I realized that I had been responding by saying, “Thank you for coming!” as though they were invited guests at some sort of fancy social affair.
And you know what? In our minds, that’s exactly what they were.