I have had the privilege of helping our church's food ministry serve hot meals over the past couple of weeks.
Hispanic women clack and clatter away in the sweltering kitchen (Hermano, ya estas sudando?) serving up delicious plates of food that would easily pass muster in a local restaurant. The can-opener went down this week so we had to use psycho-sized knives to free the canned carrots, corn, and cranberry/apple juices for consumption.
Stir that rice. Cut the bread. Oh, look they're already at the door. We are ready to go.
The homeless file in, one after another. They are mostly men, mostly Hispanic, and mostly middle aged or older. Their first stop in the air- conditioned basement is by the counter where they "sign in" and then receive their utensils: one napkin, one Styrofoam cup, and one plastic spoon. Some of them are amiable and greet the workers, others are apathetic, staring sullenly down at the paper and pen, still others are mentally incapable of any response beyond sticking to the routine as best they know how.
Everyone attempts to write their name, but some are more successful than others. There were Mikes, Albertos, Eduardos, and Johns along with Ms. Park, only the second homeless Korean I have ever seen. There were exotic names too: Angel de Maria, G, XX, along with various lines and squiggles. Some wrote their names quickly and sat down, some bit their tongues and forced the pen down in the painfully laborious strokes of a first grade education. A couple took up more lines than were necessary, straying into other names and margins, like drunk drivers in the world of the literate.
The jobs in the kitchen and serving the food kept me from getting to spend time with many of them. I spoke briefly with John, who was so excited to have someone to talk to that he continued the conversation even while he left the table to get more to drink. He was still talking when he sat down again; I am not sure how much I missed. I did catch that he used to work in construction up in Fresno, before he lost his job. He took some classes at LA City College studying, "a little bit of everything."
I met up with Mr. "G" as well. Thick jacket and a braided beard. He says he is staying cool even with the recent heat. "It doesn't bother me at all."
Hundreds of names, hundreds of stories. Can't wait to begin exploring them all.