Serving Lunch in the Cafeteria

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During my time working at the Health Advocacy Clinic over the summer, our group of three students was able to serve lunch in the cafeteria to guests in the PADS program. The cafeteria was pretty full; there were a lot of guests. Looking at the tables, I saw some guests who looked exhausted with their heads down. Still there were others attentive who ready to eat and very talkative. Then there were a few who sat alone in silence. We were met by a woman who worked in the kitchen and seemed to be running the show. She immediately asked, “Which one of you has the strongest stomach?” We all sort of looked wearily at each other and finally someone asked why. She informed us it was because that day, they were serving “delicious” pigs’ feet. The woman explained to us that a very nice large donation had come in and there were also specific requests for pigs’ feet. Right away, one of the other students stood up and said he would serve them, at which time I let out a sigh of relief, ran to the chocolate pudding and guarded it like it was Fort Knox.

Once we were set up at our stations, there was another woman who asked the guests for silence for a few announcements. The first announcement was about how there would be a sign-up sheet for showers because they were being fixed; another about how Hesed House had organized a group choir and that they had five people show up to the first meeting. At the conclusion of the announcements, a guest led a prayer over the food. Hesed also had a drawing for the guests, where winners were allowed to go first in line. Following the winners from the drawing, staff released guests table-by-table to the food line in a very organized fashion. Overall, the guests were respectful and polite when coming through the line. While serving the food, I tried to make eye contact, say hello, and ask, every so often, how they were doing. I could tell there was a language barrier with some guests as they just smiled and nodded when I spoke to them. There were other guests who were more talkative and also asked me how I was doing. All the guests were humble, gracious, and never once did I see a guest turn their nose up at or complain about the food

Unexpectedly during lunch, most of the guests turned down what I thought was the best part of the meal: the dessert. What shocked me further was the fact that several of the guests actually commented how the sugar and sweets were bad for them and declined to take any pudding or cupcakes. It surprised me how concerned most of the guests were about maintaining good health. I think I was surprised at the guests rejecting the dessert for a couple of reasons. For one, I have a sweet tooth and to be completely honest it would have probably been the only thing I ate that was being served that day for lunch. Secondly, I again think that the media and the news have shaped my misconceptions about the homeless. I feel like they are portrayed as lazy, stupid, not concerned about maintaining good health, and just not really concerned about anything. I had a misconception that the guests wouldn’t really care about their figure.  Third, I think it was surprising because I wouldn’t expect the focus to be on eating healthy with everything else going on in their lives. I think it showed me that the guests, although in a tough spot right now, are still striving to make health-conscious decisions.

I am so glad and grateful for this opportunity and the many others I have had to work with the guests throughout my time at the Health Advocacy Clinic.  During my two semesters, my preconceived feelings and attitudes about homelessness, originally shaped by limited media sources, were put to the test. I can say now that my prejudices have morphed into an empathetic understanding of the underlying issues that face the guests at Hesed House. Obtaining this awareness through the Clinic, I feel powerful with these gainful insights about our society and culture and hope to use this knowledge as I continue my career in public service.

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