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Grace in the Soup Kitchen and the Parking Lot

Lessons in humility and humanness

By Ute Luppertz ✨ Published 27 days ago 5 min read
Top Story - March 2024
22
Grace in the Soup Kitchen and the Parking Lot
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

My city has been deeply scarred over the last few years. Many businesses have closed and are boarded up, and countless people are on the streets, in tents, near busy roads, and in residential neighborhoods. The officials seem incapable of doing much to remedy this crisis.

While there’s a lot of political discussion, we have just a handful of pods to shelter people. City officials have resorted to placing boulders in areas with tents to block access. The result is that the tents resurface in new locations.

I could go on about this. It makes me sad, and at times, I feel disgusted by our leaders' lack of action. But that’s not the point here.

The Confession

My love for humans is conflicted when it comes to the homeless population in my area, which seems to get worse and worse. The crime rates have gone up, and drug use, property damage, car thefts, vandalism, and trash are pretty much everywhere.

Along with the homeless camps, there are also their pets, often roaming freely near high-traffic streets. They are seldom sheltered when they hang out alongside their people on the freeway onramps. To make matters worse, we have had some nasty weather lately.

I’m not going to lie; I cringe when I see people in harsh weather conditions panhandling, and the dogs stand there with them, utterly unprotected from the elements. I have been judging them. It makes me uneasy: The dilemma of compassion and judgment, the temptation to look away and block things out, the desire to help, and the hopelessness about the situation.

The Human

The other day, I went grocery shopping. When I loaded the bags into my car, from the corner of my eye, I saw a man crouched down on the sidewalk near the parking lot entrance. He had a black dog with him. The dog looked old, and the guy looked miserable. I went over to them.

Can you do me a favor? Can you get some food for your dog? — I hand him some cash. He puts out his cigarette and looks me in the eyes. — Thank you. My dog is everything to me, and he starts crying.

"Do you have a coat for your dog?" "I don’t, but I try to protect him from the elements as much as possible. He is a friendly dog." - "What’s his name?" -" His name is Banjo, and he’s sixteen years old." - "He’s beautiful. What do you do when it’s too cold outside?" - "We sleep in an old banged-up car. My name is Joe. What’s your name?" This makes me want to cry. He introduced himself and asked my name!

He continues to tell me about his dog, Banjo. He’s had Banjo since he was a puppy, and he just bathed him. "Banjo is such a good boy," he says. "Yes, he is, and he looks perfect for his age, " Joe’s eyes light up. He has beautiful eyes. Thank you. It means a lot to Banjo and me. God bless."

The Feast

I’m helping in the soup kitchen today. It’s in a small church. Every Sunday, we serve a hot meal.

I love that our guests get their meals on porcelain plates with silverware instead of plastic. I have never heard more thank you’s. It makes my heart happy.

There’s coffee, granola bars, cookies, and pop cans before serving the main course. We also have dessert with different cakes to choose from. Today’s favorite is buttercream cake with colorful frosting.

Our guests can take leftovers in to-go bags. Many put loads of nonperishable snacks and soda cans into their backpacks. Some live in transitional housing. Others ask for a blanket to go. A few are non-responsive and wolf down their food while absorbed in their world.

I have gotten to know some of the regulars. There’s Mike with his service dog. Nobody knows whether this is legitimate, but the dog is allowed in the dining room. Mike is in a good mood because he’s taking his medication. We give his dog some chicken — Oh, no, she’s not hungry, she doesn’t need anything — but the dog, her name is Lucky or little bitch, as he gleefully informs me, wolfs the chicken down, she’s so skinny.

Today, Rachel talks a lot and shares that she spent her entire childhood eating in soup kitchens with her mom, who raised five kids alone. " Can I take a piece of the soft cake with the green frosting home for my husband? He has no teeth left," - "Sure thing, Rachel."

Melanie proclaims loudly that poor people can be happy and asks everyone else to lower their voices.

An older gentleman named Chang wants me to give him some extra leftovers. "Yes, of course,"- "You are the prettiest girl in the room," he declares with a big grin when he prepares to leave.

Kelsey and Jim request extra napkins. Mary sheepishly inquires about feminine hygiene products. "We’re so sorry, but we’ve run out of them."

Phil is another regular. He wears shorts in the middle of Winter and sandals without socks. He has Parkinson’s and cannot eat by himself. His hands are too crippled. He sips coffee with a straw, and I sit with him, cut up his food, and feed him. We giggled because I dropped some of the salad from my fork.

The little confused lady is also a frequent guest. She keeps changing her name and tries to steal from others’ plates when they’re not looking. And Sonja comes most Sundays with her young daughter, who falls asleep in her chair.

Toward the end of my shift, an ancient-looking woman enters the room and sits down for a meal. She pulls me towards her and tries to tell me something, but I can barely understand her. Her mouth and teeth are so bad that it’s hard to decipher the words. "Can you please repeat it?"

Finally, I understand what she’s saying, " I need shelter. Do you know where I could go?"

humanity
22

About the Creator

Ute Luppertz ✨

I am an animal lover, a meditator, and a wisdom keeper. I live my passion through writing about life and animals and working as a pet death doula and animal communicator.

You can learn more about me here: petspointofview

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Outstanding

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Comments (12)

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  • Ameer Bibi17 days ago

    Congratulations for top story shows how people gain courage to survive

  • Babs Iverson20 days ago

    Congratulations on the Leaderboard win!!!🥰🥰🥰

  • This is a beautiful story, Ute. I am tearing up knowing so many people struggle to survive and some people, like you. are angels helping them. Just lovely and so deserving of Top Story.

  • Christy Munson25 days ago

    Thank you for being a pet death doula. My niece and her wife recently had to employ the services of a pet death doula and the experience made the loss of a (limb, child, firstborn) long-time cherished family member a bit more humane. Great story, too. Congratulations on TS!

  • Anna 25 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story!🥳🥳🥳

  • Abdul Qayyum25 days ago

    The narrative evoked intense feelings within me. https://vocal.media/fiction/the-starving-shadow

  • Dana Crandell26 days ago

    I can see this taking place in my city. Very well written!

  • An incredibly expression of the heartbreaking challenge of navigating our contemporary world with compassion.

  • Rachel Deeming26 days ago

    So moving, Ute. This is what we need to do for people. I respect you enormously for everything and for writing this to share with us.

  • Margaret Brennan26 days ago

    thank you for sharing this. it's unfortunate that there are so many people who, while able to accept help, prefer not to. even in a homeless situation, they'd rather live in a park or under a bridge than accept the help of a shelter. we have them down here in Florida and I can only assume that every one of our 50 states has homeless such as these.

  • Gabriel Huizenga26 days ago

    Thank you for sharing a few moments of these people's stories, and for being willing to engage with the complexity and dilemmas framing the whole situation. This piece is so full of genuine humanity 💙

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