Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Feeding the Homeless: Watching God Work

Monday was a rough day for me. I was scheduled to cook a meal to the homeless for Serve the City at Vineyard Church in Livermore, California, meaning I’m in the Cornerstone Fellowship kitchen by 1 p.m. Last week, a fellow caterer asked me if I could work for him Monday from 6 a.m. to noon. I needed the money, so I said yes.

Suddenly, Monday was a 13-hour back-breaker, two days after a 12-hour day in the kitchen for Dinner for Six at Cornerstone. On top of that, I had done a poor job of recruiting volunteers for Serve the City, so I would be preparing a meal for 80 people by myself. Fortunately for me, I organize my time well in the kitchen, and I know exactly what needs to be done. I needed to have the food cooked by 4 p.m. and ready to transport by 4:15 for a 4:30 arrival at the church. Food would be served at 5.

I started volunteering with Serve the City in the spring, working with Sherry Leal, who coordinates the STC homeless meals. Sherry’s job is to recruit chefs, kitchen volunteers and to collect food donations. Her weekly budget is $150, and the group has fed as many as 150 people. During summers, the numbers go down because of the heat. Sherry and I often talk about the Loaves and Fishes affect of feeding the homeless. It is a miracle to feed 150 people for $1 apiece, but it happens every week. Churches that need a boost in faith need to consider feeding the homeless, because your faith increases when you see God’s provision over and over.

After Dinner for Six, I usually have leftovers, which go directly to Serve the City. Because I count “poorly,” the amount of food the church donates is pretty hefty some months. Perhaps, someday, God will give me the gift of counting, but until then we’re stuck with the donations.

On Sundays after D46, Sherry and I always talk about what’s available, from both ends. The plan is to cook a main entrĂ©e, often in casserole form, a vegetables, salad, bread, dessert and punch. Someone else handles dessert and mixing the punch. Thriftiness and a hardy, warm meal is the objective.

It was Mother Teresa who said, “When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give the person what he or she needed.” It’s hard to hear the gospel when someone’s stomach is growling from hunger.”

My plan on Monday was to make beef enchilada casserole with ranch beans, because I knew we would have extra hamburger from Saturday night. Then, Sherry added two large turkey breasts, which would feed perhaps 50 people. I had three pans of what I thought were cole slaw left over from Saturday, but it turns out it was macaroni salad. Macaroni salad may be popular in Hawaii, but not so much in Mexico.

By 2 o’clock, I had four pots bubbling, two turkey breasts roasting in the oven, and I was sweating bullets. It was doubtful, I’d be ready by 4. I needed a little help. Next door to the kitchen is Parchments, the church’s coffee shop. I peaked in and saw bored employees, so I asked the manager, Chuck Highlund, if I could borrow one of them for 10 minutes to cut up corn tortillas for the enchilada casserole. His answer was “absolutely.” Miracle No. 1.

Miracle No. 2 was getting a church van to cart the food in cambers (food warmers) to Vineyard. I called Nancy de Matallana, the STC coordinator, and she finagled me a van.

Miracle No. 3 showed up at 3 p.m. in Dave Matas, the pastor of single adults at Cornerstone, who had just returned from a vacation in Oregon. We chatted for a while about his family vacation, then I asked him if he had 30 minutes to help me finish the enchilada casserole in order to get them in the oven for 20 minutes to melt the cheese and get the dish to above 140 degrees.

Miracle No. 4 came from the Parchments people washing my dishes while I took the food over to feed the hungry and needy. When I returned at 6, everything was washed. What a treat.

Cooking large meals comes down to timing and coordination. On my drive to church, I was praying for a miracle. I confessed to God that I had done a poor job of recruiting and planning, and asked God to cover my mistakes.

Over the years, I’ve cooked for dozens of meals such as Serve the City provides. Every single time, I am blessed to see God’s hand at work in ways I couldn’t have imagined before the day started. God needs his people to act on his behalf, so that he can do miracles in the hearts of those coming for help and food.

God needs you to help serve the lost. Today, commit to get connected to a food ministry that feeds the needy. Once a month is all God wants. Volunteering to serve others depens our faith in God, because we see God in action when our efforts aren’t enough.

If you have a story to share about working with a group such as Serve the City, email me and tell me your story in 100 words or less, and perhaps one day your story will appear in Food Parables.

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