I woke up half-consciously at 6:30 A.M. to the sound of my alarm. Thinking that the alarm was set to the wrong day, I went right back to sleep. After few minutes, I suddenly remembered that I had signed up to volunteer at the Fishes and Loaves soup kitchen in Santa Ana, California.
Heading down to the soup kitchen, I was half angry that I had to wake up early on a Saturday morning. When I arrived there, everyone was preparing for the day. The soup kitchen volunteers were divided into groups. One group of volunteers was preparing the food while the other was setting up tables. In the morning, donuts and coffee were served. In the afternoon, hamburgers were served with an assortment of foods. I was told that the people who came to the soup kitchen were mainly people who were down on their luck and just wanted a free meal. I have to admit that coming from a middle class family, I was fairly well off and a little too sheltered.
During my visit to soup kitchen, my view towards homeless people changed completely. Whenever I see homeless people on the streets, I always tried my best to ignore them. I used to think they were scary and dangerous. I hoped for a job that required minimum communication. To my surprise, my job was to carry food and serve refreshments and condiments in the soup kitchen. I was not familiar with their behavior or attitudes but I tried my best to be optimistic. Before people started arriving, I imagined drunks, people who were too lazy to work, and thieves. To my astonishment, the people were quite normal. None of them caused any violence or disturbance. They just came there to have a good meal and talk with their friends and family. Some of the people had small children and some even had shopping carts with their belongings. I could not imagine a person being able to sustain life with so few resources. I was happy to spend my time helping them with their needs. My whole mentality changed and I felt that I have learned an important thing. There are so many people in this world lacking the fundamental resources that we are taken for granted. So, with my time and effort I felt that I could make their lives better.
I met a man named Jose, who used to be a factory worker. Jose was wearing a gray jacket and a black baseball hat. His clothes were ripped and looked like they were going to fall apart. His face was wearied out from constant struggle to find enough resources. Because of the drastic decline in the economy, he lost his job. From then on, he could not find any other place to work. Understanding his situation made me realize my incorrect generalizations. Everyone there was looking for a better life and was willing to work hard for it. At the end of our conversation, he gratefully thanked me, saying "Gracias", for being a volunteer in the soup kitchen. From then on, I knew my time was used in a beneficial way.
I cannot compare the soup kitchen experience to anything else I have ever done. I have never been in such a position where I can assist people and learn at the same time. Before coming to the soup kitchen, I used to think that helping homeless people on the street would not be any interest of mine. After the experience, I feel that I have found a part of myself. Now, I enjoy giving back to the community and helping all those who are in a truly desperate situation.