Chris and his wife, Deb, worked alongside other volunteers at Manna Meal, a non-profit soup kitchen in West Virginia.
How many times have you heard the phrase, “Stop and smell the roses?” How often do you slow down from your hectic life and enjoy your blessings?
I’m guilty of worrying too much about work and not allowing myself to see other parts of life as I should. My guess is I’m not alone. We all face that from time to time. When that hectic lifestyle keeps us from seeing other important parts of the world around us, that’s when it becomes a problem.
I’ve always had a great respect for those who do mission work, either locally, within the state, U.S. or another country. But I’ve always admired from afar. Though my wife Deb and I do volunteer work locally from time to time, we’ve not branched out to someplace new to help.
That changed this past spring break.
A priest from The Pairist School in Hagerhill, Ky., visited our church — St. Peter Catholic Church — last year and spoke about the need for financial and volunteer help at their Appalachian community in eastern Kentucky.
The seeds to help were planted well before then. Father Biju Thomas of St. Peter has been a tremendous spiritual leader for Deb and me, and Linton First Christian Pastor Archie Ellett had a hand with our spring break trip as well.
Ellett was the guest speaker at last year’s Difference Makers banquet, hosted by the newspaper, at Goose Pond Lodge & Retreat. He shared something we couldn’t forget. He said giving money to causes is a good thing, but you can always make more money. But when you give your time, you can never get that back. And that speaks volumes to the people you’re helping.
That really hit home.
We made contact with the volunteer coordinator at The Pairist School last fall and she asked us to contact her again before spring break and she’d share what our duties would be during our trip.
When I called her a couple of weeks before spring break, she informed me she had surgery in January and was having complications and asked if we could postpone our trip. Of course, we agreed.
Deb and I felt we were called to help this spring break and didn’t want the opportunity to pass. We had planned on going to Charleston, W.Va., for a couple of days after our volunteer work was complete. We already had a hotel reservation for two nights.
I decided to call Catholic Charities in Charleston to see if they had any suggestions on how we could help. They pointed us toward Manna Meal.
And we’re glad they did.
Deb and I don’t share this story to toot our own horns and say look what we did. We’re sharing to let others know how such a simple act — something unplanned — can affect so many people.
Manna Meal is a non-profit corporation that operates a soup kitchen inside St. John’s Episcopal Church in the heart of downtown Charleston. But it’s much more than a soup kitchen.
They serve breakfast and lunch every day to hundreds of people. They don’t skip for holidays or bad weather. The serving starts at 9 a.m. for breakfast and 11:30 a.m. for lunch. By 2 p.m. or so everything is cleaned and it’s on to the next day.
It is an impressive operation. They serve complete meals anyone would like to eat.
They do have some fulltime employees, but they rely heavily on volunteers. Executive director Tara Martinez and her staff were over-the-top thankful for Deb and I helping. That’s not to say they didn’t make us work hard, because they did.
Deb is the cook of the family and knows her way around the kitchen better than most. I, on the other hand, know where everything is but don’t understand how to make it all come together.
You name it; we probably did it that week.
We cut up strawberries, cantaloupe, cleaned and pulled grapes off the stems, pulled chicken off the bone, cut up whole hams, prepared chicken for stir fry, prepared eggs a few different ways, and prepared hashbrowns and other types of potatoes for breakfast.
We also cleaned tables, mopped floors, took out the trash and other such duties.
That was all behind-the-scenes work. The enjoyable part of the week was interacting with the visitors, including working the serving line and cleaning up. We met some good people. Some who are down on their luck and may have a minimum-wage job, but have a roof over their heads. Others live on the street.
There were husbands and wives. Mothers and fathers with children. Young. Old. Middle-aged. Hunger reaches across all ages.
Most walked through the serving line and said thank you to each volunteer who served food. Some came back and said it again before they left.
We met a couple that said they walked six miles to get to the lunch meal, and they made it with just 15 minutes to spare. They told us they had to walk back. It broke our hearts. We asked if there was bus service near their home, and they said yes but not as often as in town. We walked with them to the bus stop a few blocks away and made sure they had enough to get home.
In those 30 minutes, they shared a lot about their lives, and it was easy to see how anyone could fall on hard times like this couple.
We met some nice people who treated us like veteran volunteers. Luke, Jennifer, Amy, Tony, Shane, James, Teresa, Melissa, “Big Country,” and a young man whose name escapes me but we shared a passion for basketball.
When they found out we were celebrating our 33rd wedding anniversary that week, they gave us a gift basket — full of West Virginia items — and some cupcakes.
It was an unbelievable experience and there’s a pretty good chance we’ll visit there again to help someday.
If we all do something individually to help a lot can be accomplished.
If you would like to volunteer or donate financially to Manna Meal, you can do so by calling (304) 345-7121 and ask for Jennifer Peters.
Chris is publisher of the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at (812) 847-4487.