Last night we volunteered as a family at a soup kitchen. It was the first time we’ve been able to find an appropriate forum (and felt it was the appropriate time) to introduce Alli to this kind of service, and it was one of our more meaningful parenting and life experiences. There was just such an amazing vibe, both among the volunteers and the diners, and it was one of those rare moments in life where I felt the kind of warm chills one gets when communing with the forces of kindness and one-ness in the universe. Altogether just under 100 people from our community came to eat, some of them having waited outside for several hours in advance to guarantee themselves a meal.
Alli was amazing. She helped with prep work, set tables, put out butter pats, and lined up the desserts that she was to serve. She cared to make sure that people were given choices among the cookie combinations set out on each plate. After serving, she skipped around, happily clearing tables and collecting utensils for cleaning.
On the way home, she shared some of her observations with me. She had been a little worried about it because she wasn’t sure what a homeless person would be like. Were they all homeless? They didn’t look like what she had thought. They weren’t all dirty. Where did they put the extra food they got to take with them? Did they have any money?
She was really focused on the money thing for awhile and I finally sorted that out when she asked me if they had to pay for the meal that we served them. When I assured her that it was provided for free, she breathed a huge sigh of relief. She had been worried that they had to pay money they didn’t have.
I think clearing that up curtailed any of her sadness about it, although I anticipate being watchful for that. Our goal was not to expose her to more than she could bear or leave her with a lingering sadness. But I think that acknowledging that bad financial times and poverty exist, within our own community as well as across the world, and that people who are suffering aren’t fundamentally different from us, is an important part of her education in this world. I also think that it can be good for us all to become more aware of our own privileges and blessings, and be more able to recognize when we want or waste more than we need.
Beyond the acknowledgement, I just feel so grateful about having found another way to show Alli that even a 7-year-old has power to make a difference.