Home(town)less

Coffee

Sometimes I miss home. I miss the way folks know exactly what you want to drink when you go to the local diner. I miss the way that neighborhoods have block parties, and kids run in the middle of the street with no worry of getting hit by a car – because the whole street is there and not a soul is driving. I miss summer on the river, hometown grocery stores, and the fact that in my hometown you can show up to your neighbors’ home unannounced and end up staying for a few hours discussing local news over a cup of coffee and a piece of cake.

But, over the past few years, I’ve become a local to a new hometown. I’m officially a big city gal who has a metro card, understands you can’t give directions by using minutes or landmarks (even if you turn left at the church on the corner, and then walk four minutes and you’ll see the restaurant on your right), and has learned the art of training a puppy with no backyard.

In my new hometown, people aren’t as friendly. People push, people shove, people yell and people honk. And it’s really easy to become jaded and to say, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” But no matter how many times I try, I can’t shove someone on the metro or get mad at a kid running too fast on the sidewalk – because everyone has a story, and mostly everyone came here from somewhere else.

So this spring I decided that the best way to cure my homesickness for the kindness and compassion that small towns have to offer was to extend a hand to those in need. I decided to help feed the hungry.

In a city where there are roughly 7,700 homeless persons on any given night, I realized that I couldn’t help every single one, but I could help a few by serving them breakfast. So I took on the task. I was up at 5:00 a.m. and arrived very sleepy and confused, and a tad scared.

But then the coordinator asked, “Can you serve coffee?”

You bet your bottom dollar I can. Growing up in the restaurant business, I can serve coffee over my shoulder with my eyes closed. OK, that may be a slight exaggeration.

“Sugar is over there, coffee is over here. They get three sugars per cup,” she said.

Seems simple enough.

Promptly at 6:30 a.m., the doors swung open and people started walking in. There were elderly folks dressed for church, single moms, single dads, groups of friends, and those by themselves.

“Miss, can I have some coffee?” a man asked.

And every time they asked for coffee, I then asked how many sugars they wanted. And every single person replied with three. Three sugars. Take that in for a moment.

We live in a society where most of us need coffee to get going in the morning. We need a few cups to function, and then by the afternoon, we need a pick-me-up. We spend $5 for a brewed latte with a fancy logo, and we view this as a necessity. How many times have you heard yourself saying, “Hold on, I just need a cup of coffee before I can start this meeting.” I’m sure a lot.

But, here I saw a group of people who would like a cup of coffee, and they would also like three sugars because they don’t get the luxury of having this everyday. Something so simple, like sugar with your coffee is a thing that every hometown takes for granted.

I asked each person how his or her day was going and learned a lot from each person I spoke with. One man played the piano for the guests, and we learned who liked blues music, who liked oldies, and who could dance really well. We learned each other’s names, who likes grits and who likes bacon, and we learned who the favorite basketball team was in the room. And we learned all of this from who likes sugar with their coffee, which made me feel like I was home for a little bit.

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