last night i volunteered at the denver rescue mission.  i had thought about doing it months ago, but i guess i got too caught up in my own life to really do anything till now.  i signed up online, a couple days prior, and i couldn’t wait for some reason.  this place is in the heart of lower downtown denver.  it’s right on broadway, and you can’t miss it as you drive by. there is a big traffic island right outside where many of the homeless congregate, and to the locals it’s know as “homeless island.”  there is not much parking around there and quite frankly the parking is kind of sketchy.

i didn’t have to worry about parking because i rode my bike from work down to the mission.  i only had to go a couple of miles but the night was very pleasant and the ride seemed like nothing.  when i arrived, i had to maneuver through the homeless and find a pole to lock my bike.  i was a little worried because my seat post was kind of expensive and it was held on by just a quick release.  i worry about such stupid things sometimes.  i walked in, signed up and sat down like i had been doing this all my life.

there were several of us who were all meeting for the first time.  most of the people at the table were very young like 20 or so, and still in college.   this was all before dinner and no one was eating just yet.  our guide andrew, gave us a tour before our shift started.  he showed us the chapel, the beds, the bathrooms…it was amazing.  people are really taken care of…it’s just too bad that there are so many people that need help.

this place is very christian. infact anyone eating there is encouraged to go to the chapel  and listen to the service before eating. it’s part of the evening.  the homeless are guided to the chapel to listen to the service for about one hour then they can go off to eat. i asked our leader if this was required. he told us that it was not “required” but strongly encouraged… then he smiled, and said, “this is a christain mission.”

the eating facilities are actually quite small. i was expecting a big high school sized cafeteria, but instead it looked like a large break room with about 14 round tables.  each table was capable of seating about 5, and if you do the math we had room for about 70.  i think only about 50 showed up.

tonight was taco night.  they were serving a taco casserole with rice and beans [i think].  it smelled and looked so good on those dented cold metal trays.  you guessed it; i was starving.  my lunch was so long ago and my short ride from work to the mission just kicked my appetite into second gear.  i was too embarrassed to ask if i could eat too, besides i didn’t even feel like i was helping all that much.

my job was to take the trays from the kitchen and hand them off to the homeless.  i was told to just smile and hand them off in a certain orientation.  in fact i got i “yelled” at by the overly uptight micromanaging boss when i handed the trays off in wrong position.  (who gets yelled at when they are doing volunteer work?)  i just kind of blew it off, because this guy seemed like his personality was strung too tight anyway.  even the homeless people were surprised, and one guy said, “what the fuck? like turning the tray is going to make it taste better?”  i smiled because here we are worlds apart, in completely different situations, probably nothing in common, we don’t know each other… and this guy “had my back!”  i felt really good after that, and i don’t know why but everyone in line seemed a lot happier. perhaps i saw them differently, or perhaps we bonded for a short moment over something kind of stupid.

i was  a little disappointed after the line ended.  i wanted to hand out more trays [in the correct orientation], but we were done.  there were a few extra trays in the window that never got handed out.  i was tempted to ask if they were going to throw those away, but decided to just stick it out and wait till i got home to eat.

since i was new i didn’t really know what needed to get done,  i just stood around and looked for something to do.  i decide that maybe i should mingle a bit.  i started talking to some of the kitchen staff a bit.  turns out they are residence of the shelter. most of them are recovering addicts and have to work as part of their rehabilitation.  one of them stood next to me and started talking about the devil.  i was really confused until i realized that the tv in the corner of the dining room was playing the church service from the next room, and they were talking about the devil.  i just smiled and said something kind of complementary to his comment.  i think it was something like, “oh yeah, the devil sucks…heh”.  i’m not a religious person so i really didn’t have anything insightful to tell this guy.

a little while later another guy came up to me and ask if i was going to be ready when he came back. again, i was completely off guard, and said, “huh?” he repeated his question and was still confused and said who, “andrew  [our manager]?” the guy understandably laughed and said, “no, jesus! …andrew is small potatoes” i laughed too, because i had nothing else to say.

we were all there for different reasons.  some people needed to eat, some needed to get their lives back, and some needed to full fill obligations, and some [mostly me] had no idea why they were there.  i’ve been trying to figure it out, but nothing really makes sense to me.  i wasn’t doing it as part of a court order, or job requirement, or group event…it was just me, just something i thought to do.  it’s kind of like planning a big bike ride or a big run… i don’t know why i do it, but i know i’ll be slightly better afterward.