By Barb Arland-Fye
We filled sandwich bags with potato chips in the parish kitchen of Our Lady of the River in LeClaire as the sloppy joe mixture simmered in one roaster and green beans in another. Our small group of volunteers spent Saturday morning preparing to serve lunch at Café on Vine in Davenport.
“How many bags of chips do we have?” I asked after we finished filling sandwich bags. We expected to serve 130 guests, so we needed that many individual bags of chips. “Seventy-eight,” Cheryl said. Sue ran to the store to purchase more chips.
Our parish serves a noon meal the first Saturday of every other month at Café on Vine. Parishioners donate food or volunteer to serve at the café or do both. I was in charge of the menu for the Aug. 1 meal and chose a special sloppy joe recipe I call “Barbie Burgers.” A key ingredient is chicken gumbo soup, which we discovered has disappeared from grocery store shelves in this time of the coronavirus pandemic. We settled for traditional sloppy joes, which are not quite as much fun to make!
Serving at the café changed dramatically with the arrival of the pandemic. Guests no longer eat inside the café but pick up lunch to go at a side window. Volunteers who serve at the café also package meals there for someone else to deliver to hotels where people without homes stay temporarily.
Seven of us arrived at the café around 11 a.m. to begin assembling to-go meals for the hotel guests. The window for “take-out” opened at noon. Our preparations began with prayer, as we stood in a semi-circle spaced apart and wearing face masks, per pandemic safety protocols. I did not sleep well the night before, worried about all of the details necessary to serve a good meal to people in need. The brief, spontaneous prayer reminded me of a quote from Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
God had provided. Teresa, our parish’s expert on volunteering at Café on Vine, coordinated our little group’s turn to serve the meal and joined us, like a guardian angel, in the kitchen at the parish and the café. We enjoyed each other’s company — Teresa, Cheryl, Tom, Lorena, Matt, Sue and me — as we worked in assembly-line fashion to package a meal of sloppy joes, hard-boiled egg, banana, green beans, potato chips and cookies.
At noon, James, a café manager, opened the take-out window. I greeted our first guest and asked, “Would you like milk or coffee?” while handing the guest a bagged meal. The lunch rush ran smoothly until I handed a cup of milk to a guest and she looked at me with a puzzled look on her face. She had asked for a meal, not milk! All of the guests expressed gratitude for the meal. One said, “God bless you.”
We ran out of bananas but James came to the rescue with oranges. Many of the plastic bags were defective, so the volunteers bagging the meals advised me to tell guests to carry their bag from the bottom.
One guest asked for chocolate milk, which we did not have at that moment. A man and two kids arrived shortly afterwards to drop off individual cartons of white and chocolate milk, juice and boxes of cereal. “He comes every weekend,” James said. I asked James if he liked working at the café. He told me there is no other place he would rather be. I felt the same way. Life is not perfect, but full of blessings. Sometimes you have to hold the bag from the bottom, knowing that everything inside is gift.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)