By Tamsin Ranskine-Fourdraine
One of the most rewarding moments of my week is the time I spend volunteering at City Meal Site held at All Saints Memorial Church. After a substantial walk down the hill that usually involves myself striding ahead as other volunteers try to keep up with my pace, I am met by the friendly faces of the team that runs the soup kitchen under the friendly and judicious supervision of their leader Mike Scarlatti.
Every week, we serve a hot meal directly to those in need who can sit down at the ten or so tables set up in the basement of the church. This arrangement provides an environment where groups of friends, couples or whole families can come and sit together and enjoy their meal. This provides a different experience to many soup kitchens where recipients must line up for their food and have little interaction with volunteers.
This can, however, make our role very hectic. We must always be aware of what is needed next; has everyone been served either juice or the Rhode Island specialty coffee milk? Do we need to clear tables to make way for a new wave of people coming in? What coffee orders are there? Has everyone been offered a dessert?
Then there always comes the inevitable moment where we have to ask Mike the magic question: will there be seconds? At the beginning of the month, we can usually give out second helpings of food since there is less demand because people receive their benefits. However, the number of people coming in for a free meal steadily increases as the month progresses and their funds dwindle. The last meal site of a calendar month is always the busiest with lines forming for those waiting to be served. We must try to work as efficiently as possible to ensure everyone is seen to in a timely fashion.
Nonetheless, there are always some regulars that you get to know as a volunteer. You may not always know their names but you get to know them as they ask you questions, have short conversations or they often like to joke with you as you run around trying to get everything done.
I would argue that this kind of direct service is not only valued and appreciated by those working to improve the Providence community, but also a manner in which Brown students can feel more involved in their temporary home for four years. Once a week, you physically move out of the Brown bubble and interact with the community at large. I encounter many students who never have the reason or the opportunity to explore the city, which I think can make their student experience more isolated. I know that if I ever need advice or help, Mike is a person that I can approach outside the university framework, and a very interesting and generous one at that! Therefore, I encourage everyone to take a bit of time out of your schedules and head down the hill with me on a Tuesday afternoon, that is, if you can keep up with my walking pace!