All I Need to Know, I learned in a Soup Kitchen – Conclusion

As I sit writing this blog, I still remember those days in the soup kitchen. I still remember the salvaged ingredients and I still remember that slightly built man. I remember the shame I felt for taking what I had for granted. But in the end, I’ve become a better person from it.

I’m a strong believer in fate. And yet, I know it’s more than fate. I don’t believe that things happen by accident. I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe that everything happens at a specific time for a specific reason. I believe I made some rather idiotic choices during my college years to fully appreciate what I now have. I’ll take it a step further. Not only do I fully appreciate what I have, but I like to think I’ve perhaps done something right once or twice along the way.

Tom and I try to stay active in our community, especially with those less fortunate. We try to find ways to give back whenever and however we can. In some ways, I think it may be for selfish reasons, for me anyhow. With every charity event, with every plate we hand out, with every person we meet, I feel a deeper sense of purpose. I don’t feel like I’m blessing these individuals as much as they are blessing me.

We recently did a charity event for a low-income housing nearby. This organization provides permanent housing with supportive services to their residents. These residents are at this housing shelter because they’ve committed to building better lives for themselves.

For this charity event, we and our small group from church organized a catered lunch and bingo for all the residents. As we were setting up the lunch buffet and table for all the bingo gifts, I was getting pretty excited seeing everything come together. I never take any event for granted. Whether it’s a charity or a high-paying event, I take my catering seriously. In my usual caterer-and-chef manner, I was directing orders to make sure that everything was in place by the start of the event. The room came together and everything looked great. We opened the ballroom door and there was a line of guests waiting.

Lunch went by without a hitch and there was hardly any food left by the time bingo started. Ah…bingo. You would never know how serious a bingo game can get until you watched the residents at this event. One woman knew the rules like the back of her hand that she was starting to direct the game! I leaned back against the wall and watched in awe as the residents played their bingo in earnest. However, there was one particular person that really made an impact on me.

A young man in his twenties was sitting at the far side of the room towards the back. I’ll call him Steve. Steve was sitting by himself and was playing with such fervor that you would have thought his life depended on winning. He had seriousness about him as he was determined to win. The problem was everyone else was winning… but he wasn’t. Game after game rolled by and poor Steve always had an almost full card sitting in front of him. Soon, as luck would have it (okay, luck had nothing to do with it. Tom just thought he needed to help out Steve and gave our Bingo caller some of Steve’s numbers), Steve finally “won.” The fact that he won wasn’t what amazed me. It was what he chose for his prizes that did.

Our prizes were an eclectic selection of “needs” versus “wants.” Steve won four times. We found out later that when Steve first walked in, he eyed the prize table and had his eyes set on three things that he needed: an umbrella, a pair of socks and a lunch box. One by one as he won, he got these three items. Ironically, or not so ironically, the things that Steve needed were always still available. Remember, most of the people in the room won before he did. But yet, the items that he truly needed were always still available. Coincidence? I think not. After Steve got his desired items, he won one final time. What did he choose after he got what he needed? What else? A bag of mini chocolate bars. Steve, unlike most of us, chose first what he needed, not what he wanted.

As I walked out the building that cool October day, I felt the crisp air on my cheeks and the warm sun on my face. That day, I didn’t do anything special for anyone less fortunate. No, it was the less fortunate that did something special for me.