Monday, February 15, 2010

Everybody's Gotta Eat

Instead of lounging around eating bonbons and wallowing in roses this Valentine's Day (which is traditionally cursed for me anyway), I got out of bed and pedalled to the Tenderloin at 9am to volunteer with some friends at Glide Memorial, bagging lunches for their meal program.

When I arrived, a sparse group of volunteers was seated on hard plastic chairs, watching the beginning of Reverend Cecil Williams' 9am service on a television being broadcast from upstairs.

We were trundled down a long dark corridor by a very large black man wearing a plastic apron and missing some teeth. We shuffled past the last seated recipients of the morning's hot meal handout in the dining room, spooning oatmeal directly from a plastic tray, and were introduced to a short man with a round chin and a squinty eye.

"I'm Popeye," he said gruffly, "because I look just like Popeye." (He did). "We're going to make 1,200 sandwiches today, people, so just put these hairnets, gloves, and aprons on, and we'll get started."

The 12 or so volunteers looked at each other apprehensively. Suddenly, a group of 40 teenagers poured in, directed loudly by a brunette woman who quickly realized that we'd do well if she directed us, too.

The teenagers began opening little lunch bags on the dozens of large folding tables and dropping cereal bars and packets of mustard into each one. Over more folding tables, six of us began to open large bags of sandwich bread.

Assembly-line style, we busted out 1,200 sandwiches in under an hour. Near the end of the sandwich-building, a volunteer came out from the kitchen, where she'd been placing sliced meat into the large flip-tubs that were then carted out to the room we were making sandwiches in.

Barbara, a schoolteacher, was a regular volunteer at Glide with her husband. We asked her how the meals were allotted--Glide serves two hot meals a day, but the 1,200 bag lunches were getting packed in huge plastic garbage bags to go elsewhere. She told us that 50 here, 30 there, would go to different organizations.

"Everyone's gotta eat, you know?" she asked as she tucked a sandwich into a plastic baggie and then placed it into another industrial-sized flip-tub.

Yes, I do know.

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