Serving through the eyes of a volunteer
As the alarm clock buzzes, I reach over and turn it off. It’s time to rise and shine. The clock reads 2:45 am. It’s very early Thursday morning. This is not just any Thursday—it is Thanksgiving—my favorite holiday. I look forward to it all year long.
Four years ago, I signed up to volunteer to serve breakfast at the Nashville Rescue Mission on Thanksgiving Day. I was so moved by the experience, I just keep going back. This will be my fifth year.
Why I Keep Going Back
I’ll never forget my first time volunteering at the Mission. It was definitely humbling. I suppose I wasn’t too surprised by the men I saw in line to get breakfast, but it was seeing the women and children that hit me the hardest. It broke my heart. I found myself wondering what story each person might be able to tell me if we had the time. I’m sure many of them are educated and possibly had a good job at some point. But maybe their husband left them, or they lost their job or their home. Each person has their own story as to why they are standing in line to receive a meal at the Nashville Rescue Mission. It just brings tears to my eyes.
“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” –2 Corinthians 4:15 NIV
This could easily be me standing on the other side of the counter. I’ve definitely had my share of challenges and disappointments. Thankfully, none of them left me without a home or a place to go. I’m grateful I have the time and the ability to serve these men, women and children—especially on Thanksgiving. I’m grateful for my blessings and this is just one way I can express my thankfulness.
It’s 3:45 am. Time to go. I want to make sure I have enough time to get to the Mission by 4:30 am. I wonder what I’ll be doing this morning. In the past I’ve helped cook eggs, sausage, run the oven, prepare bread, serve food on the line and even help carry the guest’s tray to their table. I’m happy to do whatever is asked of me.
Why I Love to Serve
I always make a point to smile and greet each person I encounter. I want them to know I see them and that they are important. I hear a lot of “thank yous” and while that’s nice and all, I really want to say to them, “thank you for letting me serve you.” I believe I’m the one who is getting the bigger blessing out of this experience.
I also try to bring friends or family with me. No point in me hoarding all these great feelings. I want to share them with the people I care about. I’ve introduced at least half a dozen people to the Mission. I know many have continued to come and serve on their own. It seems serving at the Mission has somewhat of a domino effect on people.
I don’t just serve on Thanksgiving either. I come as often as I can. I enjoy working in the kitchen with the guys in the program. Talking with them as we work just comes naturally. Most of the men are open about their lives and share their stories as to what brought them to the Mission in the first place. They are also quick to say how thankful they are for a second chance at life.
What’s It All About?
It’s 4:25 am as I pull into the Mission’s parking lot. I’m ready to help. I know it’s going to be a busy day. I heard last year they served more than 5,000 meals over the course of the Great Thanksgiving Banquet. That’s a lot of food and it takes a lot of manpower to prepare and serve. Can you imagine the grocery list for this many meals? We’re talking a bountiful banquet of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, two days in a row. It’s an enormous undertaking.
As I enter the dining room, I see a room that has been transformed for the occasion. The tables are decorated, pictures of turkeys hang on the wall and it’s obvious a lot of love has been poured out to make this day special. As I approach Tony, the Kitchen Manager, (I like to call him a gentle giant), it’s like greeting an old friend. He tells me today he needs help prepping for lunch. I’ll be peeling potatoes, then chopping onions and celery for the homemade dressing. But once breakfast is served, I’ll be serving food on the line. You know, whatever I’m asked to do…I’m happy to serve wherever I’m needed. There’s nothing like it, especially on Thanksgiving.
The Great Thanksgiving Banquet is a campaign by over 300 Rescue Missions across the country, including the Nashville Rescue Mission, providing over 500,000 Thanksgiving meals to the homeless and hungry living in the United States. This two-day event is Wednesday, November 23rd and Thursday, November 24th.