A time for giving of one’s self

by Ashley Waters

A time for giving of one’s self

I’m driving across the pavement of downtown Winston-Salem with leaves of the autumn rainbow hitting my windshield. What beautiful weather for Thanksgiving. There’s this unbearable amount of rumbling growing inside my stomach. Being the holiday you would consider it to be hunger, yet its not. It’s a massive case of butterflies. Where I arrive isn’t a family member’s house, but the Salvation Army of downtown Winston-Salem. I grab my 1908s-ers Tupperware that’s filled with cookies — 72 of them to be exact — and slowly walk towards the entrance. A gentleman who states it’s also his first time volunteering greets me outside. As we walk towards the back of the building I see four white tables and people already sitting. To my surprise they were all volunteers. There are about 30 of them this year, a lot compared to the five who showed up last year. I step into the kitchen and a vast wave of heat, smells and generosity surrounds me. Clear tight gloves are passed around. I slide my flamingo-pink nails into them, not knowing what to expect. I stand against a white brick wall and wait. Strangers surround me. Grins and glances are passed around. I’m starting to think people suspect I’m here to fulfill court-ordered community-service hours. I’m not. About a month ago I decided to come here today, more or less for personal enrichment — an act of what I like to call “paying it forward.” And I volunteered to write the staff column. I work in our Winston-Salem office, which is located one block from the mission, which is the center of so much of the homeless life I’ve become familiar with. I wondered if I would end up feeding some the same faces I see strolling up and down Trade Street every week. I walk out of the kitchen and into the dining area. A marine’s son and I start filling Styrofoam cups up with ice, and pouring orange and strawberry Kool-Aid into them. Beside me is a table pilled up with slices of pumpkin pie, sweet-potato pie, chocolate cake, red velvet cake, apple pie and, of course, fruit cobbler. A stainless-steel buffet line introduces the doorway into kitchen, filled with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, yams and sweet rolls. Plastic silverware and napkins cover each setting, waiting for needy mouths to feed. The first group arrives, mostly men. Instead of buffet style, the helping volunteers and I start passing out platefuls of steaming food. Corey Beck, a 7-year-old volunteer, zooms through like lightning passing out desserts (chocolate is his personal favorite). I notice a jolly older gentleman who stands tall and proud, wearing a faded Vietnam veterans hat. I ask him his reasoning for being here. “I have plenty,” Bill Whitaker says. “I want to help other people out, I do what I can.” I step back once again and observe the sparkle in their eyes as they receive their dinners. I watch these people lick their fingers, their taste buds jumping after each crumb, not because it’s a typical Thanksgiving feast, but it’s more than likely their only feast. The reason they’re here doesn’t really matter — giving thanks, that’s the reality. And when they leave, their bellies are full. That’s real, too.

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