February 03, 2017
The line of people continues to grow, as the noon hour approaches.
Duffle bags, faded plastic totes and wheeled caddies stuffed with personal possessions lie along the sun-drenched sidewalk, while in close eye of their respective owners.
Every Sunday, the First Congregational Church on Cedar Avenue in Downtown Long Beach hosts a warm home-cooked meal to the homeless or anyone in need. The Urban Community Outreach started this drop off center here over 10 years ago, beginning with sack lunches and now offers a delicious hot meal service.
As a new resident of Long Beach, I wanted to become part of the community and decided to explore volunteer groups who support those in need.
At 1:00 pm the gates open and the flood of hungry souls immediately fill the church courtyard. They enter a place where they feel welcomed, know the volunteers by name and can freely socialize with one another.
As each person approaches the check-in desk, they smile and proudly provide their name for the attendance records. There is respect within these walls and many feel comfortable to lend your ear for just a moment, to share their personal story.
The first meal service is cooked by an amazing chef named Melody and includes dessert and beverage of choice. A second serving begins at 3:00pm, generously donated by local restaurants and hotels.
For some, this is their only hot meal of the week and they are so grateful.
There is a computer area set up on one side of the dining hall to check emails or to peruse the internet. On the other corner, a large TV plays a feature film and provides a spot where they can relax, nap and enjoy a few laughs with one another. Last week the movie was JAWS and it was a hit!
Caseworkers are available to assist with any special requests concerning housing or other urgent matters. In addition, there is free, donated clothing set up on tables, a small mail pick-up service and a nurse is on site once a month to check blood pressure or help with any other ailments.
As the weeks go by, I am getting to know some of the attendees. Each has their own tale of who they are and how they arrived here. I am humbled by their stories.
After my volunteer work is completed, I walk out the gate with a smile. Not only have I helped my community, these people have also enriched my life.
I say good bye to some of them who are still lingering outside the church entrance. They immediately smile back and say "thank you."
How pleased I feel to be part of this community.