Friday, February 6, 2009

As the we pulled up in our Miami Red Minivan, the crowd of those loitering in front came into view.  We gradually made our way to door, unsure of what we were about to encounter.  Expectedly, there were a number of words and mumbling generated towards us strange looking individuals, who were obviously unfitting to this environment.  We continued inside, many experiencing fear begin to overwhelm their thoughts.  However, behind this curtain of fear, in my mind, sadness and the desire to help took the stage.
After battling the chaos that we found inside and discovering the man in charge of the volunteers, we were directed where to go.  Before taking up my new occupation as bread distributor, Rebecca and I asked to use a restroom.  We were led up the back stairs, which seemed to be somewhat guarded and a VIP area.  As we passed through the threshold, the comment, "What?  You ladies don't wanna use the one downstairs?" followed by exaggerated chuckles.  Thankfully, the small, closest-sized bathroom with an ancient door and a tarnished handle, was still clean and not as unpleasant of an experience as I had imagined.  However, I began to draw a picture in my mind of the bathroom that must exist downstairs for the rest of the guests at the Inn.  My stomach could only handle a few thoughts, and I had to erase that image from my mind.
After our adventure, we went back behind the serving area and put on clear, plastic gloves, that stuck to your hands, suffocated them, and left an unusual odor on my skin.  As I was told my job and we stood waiting for the first group permitted to get in line, I peered around at my surroundings.  I took great notice of the fact that most of the skin was dark, with only a handful of white men.  Ages ranged from 18 to what must have been 90.  There was one short, quiet Native American women that seemed almost as out of place as we were.  Also, there was one white girl, probably in her early 20's, that carried a backpack, did not look dressed for the weather, scarfed down her food as quickly as she was able, and went on her way.  Perhaps she was passing through.  Maybe she got kicked out of her home.  I wish I knew her story.
As the first group got called up, they eagerly picked up their trays and scrambled towards the food.  Most were grateful for this nourishment, especially since they managed to get up in front, before the soup ran dry and the beans appeared.  As people made their way to the end of the line, I would hand them one slice of bread, which never seemed to be enough.  There was constant pleas for one more piece.  It broke my heart when I had to reply, "I'm sorry sir, I can only give you one."  Immediately, I wanted to run to the store and return with a Wonderbread truck filled with loaf after loaf and pass them out.  Bread to them seemed to be like a sacred drug.  One man in a gray, hat with two furry flaps over his ears, stood at the end of the line to keep order.  In addition to his role almost as a security guard over the food, there were a few times when he directed me to give an extra slice of goodness.  Those that were his close friends would ask me, "Please, can I have two?" and the hat man would lean over, look around to make sure no one could see, and whisper, "It's ok, give this guy another."  I felt as if I were performing an illegal act.  
It seemed rather odd when some would pass by and refuse a piece of bread.  Also, another lady said, "Do you have any wheat?" then looked at her friend and explained, "You gotta eat the wheat bread.  The white stuff will kill ya.  I'm not gonna die from eating white bread all the time.  That stuff is bad."  It was terrible, but in my mind I thought that most likely, the cause of her demise would not be due to eating a few slices of white bread.  If I were in her situation, I would have a great number of other things besides white bread to worry over.  
A large number of people took their bread thankfully and often expressed their appreciation towards me.  I would simply smile, nod, and say something along the lines of, "Yup," or "Of course."  One young man, probably around the age of us servers, requested that he have a piece of rye bread instead of white, which I happily distributed because most, "Could not possibly stomach that shit."  (As one man put it when I attempted to present him with rye bread)  When I gave the young man his requested rye roll, his eyes lit up and he said, "Girl, you the nicest shawty I've met.  Over there smilin and all and givin me this bread."  I never would have thought that giving him the unpopular rye bread could mean so much.
There were certainly times when people were angry, aggressive, and unappreciative.  One man went along the line screaming swear words, with his friend ahead trying to settle him down.  At one point, it seemed as though a fight was going to break out, but it was immediately taken care of.  Another man angrily described to Joe that the portion of his potato salad was, " a child's serving.  You puttin in half a scoop?  What is this?"  I think the most hostility that was expressed was after the beans were brought out.  No one wanted the beans.  One man tried to make a joke out of it and said, "It's not gonna smell good in here tonight!"  He saw me laugh, and called me out on it.  He loved it though.
One man continually walked up to get food, without being questioned.  Then, I realized he was helping to serve those that were handicap. On one of his trips up someone asked him who the tray was for this time, and he pointed to an old white man, with a gray beard, slouched posture, and was walking aimlessly in the opposite direction.  The man with the tray pointed to him and said, "He's drunk again.  Gotta get him some food."   The one who had inquired who it was intended for laughed and said, "That old man's always drunk."
There were times when people would try to sneak in the line for a second time.  This was no doubt against the rules.  Another rule was to eat fast and move along, in order to make room for others.  The system was strictly enforced.  While everyone was eating, the room was filled with laughter, gossip, yelling, and pure talking.  It seemed as though many even had their own "group."  In a some ways, it was similar to a high school cafeteria.
Those that we served were quite aware of their status in society compared to ours.  Many realized this, and it seemed that some knew we might be afraid, so they tried to be friendly.  One man, probably in his mid-twenties, asked where I went to school.  When I answered his question, he reacted by saying, "OOOOh. You're a University girl."  There were a few more lines of conversation, but he went on his way to eat.
We certainly did not seem to belong in the Drop Inn.  However, it became clear that even though these people did not have homes and slept on the street, they are human beings just like everyone else.  They have their close friends, their have good laughs, they have problems, and enjoy a decent meal.  I would definitely go back.

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