We have volunteer dinner groups come in each night to the shelter to prepare and serve dinner. The groups plan and purchase the food themselves. On lottery nights, when we give away the shelter beds in a drawing, they can serve up to 120 people, but most nights it's about 55 people. It saves us over $60,000 every year in food costs. Part of my job is to greet the groups a few nights a week and provide tours for anyone who is new. Most of the groups are from churches, but we also have families, scout troups, businesses and other organizations. Last month I was interested to see that the high school a few blocks from my house had signed up for a meal. When they came, I gave them a short run down on what we do and then a tour. It was a large, enthusiastic group, which makes my job more fun. After I was sure they were all set for the meal. I said good-bye. They'd signed up for a couple more dates, so I knew I'd see them again.
We got a call last week from the teacher who helps set-up the meals. Someone had seen an article in the paper about the death of one of the shelter guests they'd spoken with the night they'd served dinner. She'd been found out under an overpass and had probably died of exposure after drinking with some friends. The woman, Flora, had made a big impression on a few of the kids and they were pretty upset. Since I was going to be meeting the group anyways, I said that I would talk to them a little about death and homelessness. I've always thought it was important to be honest with teenagers about the reality that many of the people we work with face whether it's drug abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, violence. The life expectancy for someone who is homeless is around 56, if I remember my statistics correctly. Flora was right about that age. So, I talked about all of that and then asked if they wanted to take some time to share some thoughts or maybe have a moment of silence for Flora. We'll be remembering her again at the annual memorial service next December and I invited all of them to that. Two of the girls had written something they wanted to share. The gist of what they said was, "We came here to do a good thing. We thought we'd be making a difference for some of the people staying here. We met Flora, who was a wonderful, interesting person. She took time to share some of her life with us. She had much more of an impact on us than we had on her. Now she's gone but we'll never foget her."