Earlier this week, I had the privilege of assembling meals at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen.
As a first-time volunteer, I didn’t know what to expect.
I am assigned to Line 1, Vegetables. I accept a paper hat, a plastic apron and gloves and get in position between the Black Bean server and the Mashed Potato server. Line 1 faces a mirror image Line 2.
The first position in each line, Trays, grabs a beige plastic tray with built-in compartments from a stack that is being constantly replenished.
Bread adds two pieces of bread with a dab of grape jelly smeared on each. Then Dessert fishes exactly four strawberries from a watery gray bin for the small top compartment. Then the beige tray moves to Black Beans, Mixed Vegetables (me), Mashed Potatoes, Salisbury Steak, Gravy, Utensils and Drink.
The soup kitchen guest does not get to walk with a tray in front of the metal bins of food and customize his or her meal. Each guest receives a pre-assembled tray at the end of each line.
Two runners work between the two lines replenishing the metal bins of food as needed.
As the beige trays rush down the assembly line, I notice how haphazardly the grape jelly is applied; some pieces of bread lack the moistening smear of grape jelly entirely. Strawberries range from firm to a little soft to mushy.
Each tray gets what it gets: luck of the draw, or luck of each guest’s place in line.
Black Beans and I must share a tray compartment. Since the black beans are watery, it doesn’t matter if the mixed vegetables land on top. Still, I try to land the mixed vegetables away from the Black Beans; at the same time, I want to drain as much of the water from the pea, carrot and green been ensemble as possible.
The beige trays already hold a bit of water from Dessert (strawberries).