Saturday, October 24, 2009


Today was soup-kitchen day. The day that the husband and I spend volunteering at a local church outreach centre, helping cook and serve hot food for the hundred or so people who turn up hungry, cold and down on their luck. The one day a month I spend there is one of the best days for me, and often one of the worst.

Although run by a local church, the centre is not overtly religious - and as I am a practicing atheist, this suits me down to the ground. The volunteers here are from all different walks of life and different religions, drawn together by our common wish to help those who are less fortunate. There is such and open-minded attitude towards non-Christians there, no judgment on those of us who are not religious, that it renews my respect for those who do embrace religion in their lives. Having an elderly client ask me one day whether I had found Jesus, I repressed the cheeky urge to reply, "I didn't realise you'd lost him", and smiled and said nothing.

The weather was miserable today, cold and windy and very rainy, so we had a larger group than usual, and they were wet and chilled. But we had good food, and lots of it, plenty to go round, so nobody left hungry or missed out. One of the clients came round the back to help with the dishes, as we were run off our feet. There is such a strong sense of community amongst them, they stand together and look out for one another; making sure a mother with a young baby gets the first meal, and plenty of leftovers to take home; helping a man with a walking frame to a seat. The best of humanity emerges out of the worst circumstances, and reaffirms my faith in the essential goodness that is in all of us, no matter how low we are brought in life.

Kids are the worst, the most heart-breaking. Today we had a group of three little boys, all under the age of 10 I would guess, but it's hard to tell sometimes when they are so thin. It makes me want to cry sometimes, seeing such young children sitting at a fold-out table, on hard plastic chairs, waiting patiently for the plate of hot food. I know it breaks my husband's heart to see them, he loves kids - he always makes sure they get the largest serving possible, and sneaks them extra dessert or cans of drink. They have such irrepressible hope in their eyes those kids, like a light shining out of them. It makes me sad to think that that light will dim over time, as the life they have been given rubs the fresh bloom of childhood off them. They will eventually stop thinking that people are kind, stop expecting good things for themselves in life. The drugs and the violence will stamp it out of them. And it makes me angry, makes me question what bad fortune condemned them to be born into such a life of poverty, of depression, of abuse.

But on the whole the experience today was positive, as it always is. The old man with no teeth who, when I hand him his meal, always says "Thank you darling, I love you darling." The volatile young heroin user who protectively watches over the young women and kids like a hawk, shielding them from anyone who flares up or gets aggressive. The teenage couple who sit together near the door, clearly embarrassed to be there, quietly grateful for everything they are given. They are all good people, and the knowledge that, by giving up a few hours of my weekend each month, I can in some small way make things a bit easier, a bit better for them, makes me happier than almost anything else in my life.

* * *

Then said a rich man, "Speak to us of Giving." 

And he answered: 

You give but little when you give of your possessions. 

It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. 

For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow? 

And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog
 burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city? 

And what is fear of need but need itself? 

Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, thirst that is unquenchable? 

There are those who give little of the much which they have - and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome. 

And there are those who have little and give it all. 

These are the believers in life a
nd the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty. 

There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward. 

And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism. 

And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; 

They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space. 

Khalil Gibran.


  1. It is so admirable that you take your time to volunteer, especially in a church environment despite your religious beliefs. So many don't - I don't - and it is true because I give to charity regularly but not my time. I should start. This post really warmed my heart. x

  2. You & your husband are 2 very beautiful people.

  3. You're a beautiful human being, inside and out.

  4. What a beautifully written post.
    This is a kind thing you're doing. You're really making a difference to so many. I think the people you're helping appreciate it so much.
    I volunteer as a mentor for a group of 12 -25 year olds with chronic illnesses and disabilities run by the Childrens Hospital in Melbourne. I love it so much - these young people are inspirational and achieve so much in this program, which sets them up for study and work. It's a priviledge to be a part of their lives.
    Well done on your efforts with the soup kitchen
    Carly :)