“Wiggle your fingers and toes. It’s going to be a good day!” Margaret, our group leader, would say this softly as we were waking up around 5AM. We woke up this early before the sunrise for a few days to serve breakfast at the Midnight Mission.
The mission offers many services, one of which is serving three meals a day. I honestly was not very excited to wake up so early and fill the stereotypical role of serving food at a shelter. It is not that I didn’t want to and wasn’t happy to serve, it just seemed like a cliché. Over the few mornings that we served at the mission I traded off doing different tasks such as serving in the buffet line, taking trays and cleaning tables, and helping with prep work in the kitchen. This allowed me to have different experiences in each. Standing behind the buffet line and serving portions of food was harder that I had anticipated, especially when it’s a line of over 700 people! I couldn’t really have any conversations with the individuals in line, aside from a quick “Hi, Good Morning!”
The next day, I bussed tables and had the opportunity to interact with the guests. I recall one gentleman who wished me a Merry Christmas. This was particularly warming because I had not realized that it was less than a month before Christmas with the warm weather and new environment. I had a completely different perspective in the cafeteria talking to the guests in comparison to standing behind a counter. I also helped packing lunches in the kitchen. I was amazed to see all of the in-kind donations that the mission received from big brands. Also the amount of fresh and healthy food was nice to see.
After serving we were given a tour by one of the residents, many of whom also work at the mission. The residents are undergoing different types of recovery programs and might even be gaining an education and learning professional development skills to land a job. During part of the tour, we were outside on a third floor terrace where on-site apartments were located as a final part of the recovery programs. Here our tour guide was looking over the railing to the street below. He said that this was the heart of Skid Row.
Some people from the street began to notice us and one women started yelling in our direction. I don’t think that everyone in the group picked up on this, but an African American woman who appeared to be homeless was shouting derogative phrases to an African American member of our service group. The woman on the street was shouting phrases like “Do you think that you are better than me just because your with them? You’re black too!” I was initially shocked by this and looked over to my friend who had been singled out by the woman. I was concerned for her wellbeing during this verbal attack. This was the first time I noticed someone explicitly voice their opinion about one of our service group members. I wondered if this is what others maybe thought of our group as we walked on the streets in Skid Row.
We had just finished serving so many appreciative members of this community and then we were faced with these feelings of contempt and anger? It made me uncomfortable to witnessed such hurtful words. I was rudely reminded of the modern disparities between race and socio economic classes. The fact that privilege is something you are born into and have no control over. These were some topics that were staring me in the face, and I had not taken the time yet to think about and process.