by Elsie Flynn
Editor’s Note: Let us remember that volunteering is work too, that God often uses volunteer work to soften our hearts, to humble us and to develop within us a servant heart, just like Jesus. I am especially fond of the Salvation Army, who once provided my father with a train ticket home to attend his grandmother’s funeral when he was a young recruit in the U.S. Navy during the Korean conflict. Later, when my father grew to be more prosperous, he tried to pay back the Salvation Army, but they would not accept a payback. Such is the generous heart of this organization.
"Then these righteous ones will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?’ And the King will tell them, 'I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” Matthew 25:37, 40 (NLT)
The Salvation Army in my neighborhood was established in 1890. They invite the community in for a luncheon each Wednesday. The ladies auxiliary group prepares and serves the meal on the first and fourth weeks. Groups from two local churches volunteer the other two weeks. My first time participating in the luncheon was such a wonderful experience, one I'll always remember and one I'd like to share.
Let me describe the building for you. I'm guessing it was built in the early 1900's, a three-story red brick structure with a modern addition in the back, which houses the shelter. The main entrance is at the top of a short flight of steps. Once inside, there is another set of steps. At the top of that stairway is the double doors to the chapel. The dining room and kitchen are in the basement. It's an old building with lots of old public building charm. Not shiny, but not scary either.
I entered from the back door and found the kitchen. I was greeted by a very friendly lady who asked, "Can I help you?" I said, "That was going to be my question; how can I help you?" She assured me they'd find something for me to do. She motioned me to have a seat at the table with the other ladies catching their breaths from cooking and waiting for the guests to be let in. Miss. D, a retired schoolteacher, sat next to me and explained the routine. One of the two other ladies helping that day was Miss L. She was there to fulfill her commitment of public service as part of the recovery program she is in.
Now let me tell you about Miss I. She was at the switchboard, as she calls it, the day I went over to inquire about doing volunteer work. I got the impression she was pretty much in charge that day. She's been with the ladies' auxiliary over 20 years and knows a lot of the history there. I would say she's the go-to girl for most everything. She was doing this, looking after that, giving direction to the volunteers, making sure the noodles were cooked and buttered, etc. We celebrated Miss I's 91st birthday last week. She's got the secret: Keep on moving!
The food and beverages were set out on the serving tables and we each manned our respective posts. Miss I served the ham; her daughter did the green beans. Miss L scooped out the noodles, and I was assigned the applesauce and rolls. Dessert was self-service.
Once we were all situated, the doors were opened. The room filled up quickly. Earlier, I had asked how many people usually come for the meals. Miss L said usually around 60 or so, but they were expecting around 100. "Times are pretty bad," she replied, We're going to have a crowd." She was right. The place was filled to capacity in just a few minutes.
The Major offered the blessing. Then the folks formed a line, got their trays and plates and made their way down the tables. I said, "Would you like applesauce, a roll?" and "You're welcome" to everyone. I made it a point to look at each face. I recognized two ladies from Bible study the day before. They and their group stayed behind to help clean-up. They folded up all the chairs and put them off to the side. I saw their willingness to help with the clean-up as a gesture of appreciation.
For the most part, people were very appreciative. Many came back for seconds and said how delicious everything was. Some said that meal would be their only meal that day. As we packed-up the leftovers, I wished we could have made "doggie bags" for those people so they'd have something to eat later. It took about an hour to clean-up, wash & dry dishes and put everything away.
I walked out of the building feeling grateful that I was able to do so. God put my hip pain on hold for a few hours, and it didn't interfere with the job He had for me that afternoon. I was able to climb and descend the steps. He showed me that even with my physical challenges, I am capable of doing something to help out within my community. I love what Paul said in Philippians 4:13, "For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need."
God opened my heart to feel compassion and empathy for the folks seated at those tables. He gave my eyes the clear vision to see everyone as the individuals they are, all there under different circumstances: Some to give help and some to receive help, some because they chose to be there, others because they had no other choice. I am privileged to serve Him and thankful to be chosen to participate in His work, wherever it may be that He sends me. And I have a new phrase to add to my meal blessing: "Thank you Father for the abundance, for the plentiful food we always have in this house."
Since departing her job at a high-end residential landscape design firm, Elsie volunteers at her local Salvation Army and also offers hope and encouragement to others through her writings. She lives just northwest of Philadelphia, Pa. with her husband and her ball-crazy German shepherd.