Cass Community Social Services, 500 Biblical Meatballs & 375 Memorial Challah Onion Rolls.

RE-POST from April 2014:

There are at least six, solid, Biblical references regarding meatballs.

“Hi, we were wondering…”

I received a significant, mid-week invitation from a dear, don’t-get-to-see-often, friend. It was one of those jump-to-it, second-chance, “you don’t want to miss this,” opportunities. The last time I rode along became a scary freeway ice-dancing event featuring sliding cars, sudden lane-swerving, and frightening brake pumping. A few near-accidents in, a committee of concerned participants made the reluctant decision to head home before reaching our destination. It was a hard call to make, because individually and as a group, we don’t take volunteering lightly. In this case, it was clear a no-show would have serious consequences, but the severity of the travel conditions could not be ignored.

That’s how a recent early Saturday morning found me munching a Clif protein bar, hanging in the far parking lot of Sam’s Club, waiting on another ride.

In mission work there are sometimes great gaps of knowledge. This one wasn’t much of a mystery. We knew where we were headed, and what we would do. Still, the informational brochure I was handed filled in a lot of unknown blanks in my perception of the project. The impressive scale of Cass Community Social Services in Detroit is something to behold. The volunteer schedule is equally as impressive.

The Saturday kitchen schedule was filled by a church confirmation class from Alpena, a church youth group from Northville, the Detroit chapter of One Brick, some Michigan State-ers on spring break, and a women’s church group from Tecumseh. It started off slowly, but at one point I counted 24 people in the kitchen.

We had arrived believing we would be making sandwiches, and left not having made a single one. The new first order of kitchen business was slicing semi-frozen flanks of meat. The first problem I encountered was a lack of latex free gloves. By default, I became the dishwasher.

A volunteer named Bobby, who has been washing dishes at Cass for 9 years, so far, demonstrated the basics. Food down this shoot; rinse, load, fill, sanitize, stack, and re-shelve. I really wanted a bit more instruction from Bobby, but he wasn’t inclined to give it. He walked away and I proceeded to process dishes, utensils, pots and pans for two hours straight. Bobby would fly by every once in a while, saying the same thing, “You’re doin’ alright!”

During one of those passes, another volunteer pointed to my cleaning stash and requested an aluminum scrubbie. When I turned for it, Bobby was in my way, so I asked him to please hand it over. He didn’t. “The scrubbie,” I reiterated, thinking perhaps he hadn’t heard my quiet voice in the ruckus. He just stood there, shaking his head at us. I tried again, carefully explaining and renaming the item, “She would like that scouring pad, please.” Finally, he cracked a semi-smile and pointed behind her. There, at the exact spot where the question had originated, in a rather obvious place, was another one. 

In those two minutes, my pile had grown to overflowing the staging-space allotted to dirty items. but went back to work with a conquer-this-mountain attitude. Eventually, I was relieved of dish duty. I didn’t want to be relieved, but Miss Lonetta – head cook, kitchen orchestrator/coordinator, menu planner – insisted. She handed me two bowls with bananas, oranges, and grapes, pushed open a door and told me to go sit outside. A few minutes later, I became the fruit sharer, offering fruit and fresh-air seats to the also forced-to-take-a-break cooking crew.

The beef slicers also chopped a lot of broccoli and garlic, grated carrots and cheese, made rice, cracked dozens of eggs, and melted butter. From 9:00 AM until Noon, the principles hustled us along. It was about then that some of the volunteer shifts had ended. There were only about 6 of us left. Lonetta told me to go grab some parchment paper, and pointed in the general direction supplies. I wasn’t exactly sure where to look, but eventually I spied, grabbed, and delivered.

Then she wanted to know why I wasn’t making meatballs, with the few remain-ers who were also running out of time. I explained about the latex, and she gleefully cried. “Grab an apron and suit up!” One of the volunteer groups had shown up with a box of latex-free gloves. On my first grab, it was interesting to discover my right hand was reluctant to roll anything. It was sorely sore from squeezing the hand-held faucet. Still, I did my best with the sticky stuff. Out of 500 meatballs needed, jumping in at the last minute, I probably rolled somewhere around 50.

During the course of the morning and early afternoon, Lynetta changed her meal plan three times while we were prepping. Due to a lack of peppers, Pepper Steak turned into Steak ala Cass, which is actually pepper steak minus peppers, plus onions and mushrooms. Ten trays of garlic bread were prepped for the oven. For the most part, those who come for Cass meals, don’t eat vegetables if they’re presented as a side. Miss Lonetta devised a way to sneak them in. Meatballs were beefed up with carrots, broccoli, and onion, and stretched with crumbs, eggs and cheese. At the last minute, we learned a vegetarian entry would also be needed. We reviewed ingredients available, put our thinking caps on, and came up with a very improvised veggie stir-fry.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: each person’s mission experience will differ. I can’t say this is an accurate reflection for anyone else but me, but, the 30-second do-this dishwashing brief, the here’s-two-bowls-go-sit-outside directive, and the frantic search for parchment were unnerving in a successful, hyped-up sort of way. There is something to be said for being available and able to fumble around, change directions, and do whatever has to be done. It brings a little self-pride, a little coping confirmation, and an absolutely miniscule idea of what may be expected next time.

My unofficial three-part summary of Cass Kitchen philosophy:

Be aware of your surroundings.

You can find whatever is needed, if you look.

If you can’t find it, improvise.

Quote for the week:

Cass Community Social Services: http://casscommunity3.wordpress.com/

Philippians 2:4: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens.

John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Romans 12:10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Out-do one another in showing honor.

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Colossians 3:12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

Evolution, Part 5: Wind + Down

I wouldn’t say I was feeling down. I couldn’t call it disappointment, either.

It was a very good day. It just wasn’t the day I had imagined.

I was pleased to have kept my commitment; pleased to have made a small difference.

The spiritual service moved me to tears. I managed to hold back most of the lonely decompression that follows the end of a mission.

Community disengagement is a let-down; leaving, returning to steady, known apathy.

The short-set mingling morphed into tired walking; across the street to cars, and rest rooms and t-shirt purchases.

 

I cannot tell you it was a well-thought out thought; it wasn’t.

I cannot tell you why I said what I said, feeling the way I did.

I cannot tell you I knew the person just a step behind me.

I cannot tell you I recognized them; not from work, not from lunch, not from praise.

I just skipped a step, falling back a foot, turned and said, “This may have been one of my best birthdays, ever.”

I didn’t realize we’d stopped walking; we were talking.

Quickly: about birthdays and kites, tulips and art, a fight two sisters had in their mother’s hospital room.

The leaving chill evaporated; son-powered enthusiasm soaked in.

Suddenly we were last in line, thanking GOD and Jesus for a beautiful day.

Followed by a question with the only possible answer: Yes.

 

We sat down there, in a day-safe neighborhood, in the dwindling late afternoon, deep in portfolio.

A simple medium; graphite and recycled paper = pencils and abandoned pages.

I’ve never mastered the achievement of negative space in any medium.

Pencil, pen, crayon, watercolor – all take foresight. A clear tear is not easily added to a pencil portrait.

Devils that didn’t look like devils, doorways to the wrong place, wallpaper with eyes, a gang logo, a sister, a mourner, a life; questionable looks from passersby.

 

I stopped when I saw her, speaking to me of loss and prayer and grief and release; echoing loneliness caught by loneliness.

I didn’t ask who she was; simply served a compliment.

A few pages later, the counterbalance caught me. Separated, two portraits sharing one instance, one hand on each shoulder.

I knew they belonged together. When offered, I cried.

I knew they belonged together. Speechless to the insistence, I cried a little harder.

 

“If it’s going to make you sad, make you cry, I won’t ask you to take it. If it will bring you joy, please…”

 

I looked up from the shadows, buildings by setting sun; patience was waiting, not signaling time to go.

But we knew it was, so carefully, the gift was rolled; secured, presented.

We hugged and hugged again, and when my breath came, I grasped for more –

With nothing to offer, except for this; “I hope to see you again, someday.”

To which was replied; “It’s all up to Him. GOD’s will be done.”

 

So, I fought the breeze, and crossed the street, and wiped the wind tears away;

I could not, then, and still cannot answer; “Whom was ministering to whom?”

 

Quote for the week:

Sometimes we must plan in advance barry curry art oct 1 2014

Enjoy This Week’s Discovery Links:

Beginning Charcoal:  http://www.artinstructionblog.com/charcoal-drawing-basics-techniques-for-beginners

Detailed: Interpretation of Art; http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/36433/art-philosophy-of/36256/The-interpretation-of-art

Art as Therapy: http://medicalarttherapy.com/using-art-as-an-outlet/

Evolution, Part 4: Horchata + Quakers

Dinner was another adventure. Taqueria Mi Pueblo on Dix greeted us with a huge cement chicken (rooster, whatever) silhouetted against a summer blue sky. We had an adventurous group at our end of the long table. Gorditas, Tostadas, Gringas, Rellenos were all ordered with enthusiasm. I don’t think anyone ordered the same meal. I also discovered a new treat. Actually, I overheard it requested by a young lady as her beverage, so I asked about it. The best way I can describe the taste would be liquefied, drinkable rice pudding. Perfectly spiced, watery, yet creamy, Horchata is rice milk made by steeping white rice for 24 hours, adding vanilla, nutmeg and lime, among other variations. I checked the recipe. It’s labor intensive due to straining, but still easy enough to conquer on a snow bound winter day. In Michigan, we save stuff like this anticipating days when we’ll need something to prevent all the cold whiteness from freezing our brains.

Three more surprises came along. First, our meal was paid for by our youth group hosts and hostesses. Next a sweet surprise (and yummy) piece of Tres Leches arrived with fanfare, requested by my sweet friend. The third surprise was the hat. Actually, it was a sombrero: a big, heavy, red velvet, silver embellished festivity designed for someone with a much bigger head than mine. Truth is almost everyone’s head is bigger than mine, except for most children. Truth. Most of my hat buying most occurs in their kiddie section of department stores. In any case, the singing waitresses and the cake triggered additional surprise among my day-long companions. “How did we not know it was your birthday?” one asked. The fault there was mine. I did not advertise my predicament. Ok, predicament may not be the correct term to use for the routine occurrence of growing older. It was a mindful choice for me to be there on that particular day. It’s how I chose to spend it; doing something that I love – volunteering.

Post dinner, back at Cass, we headed back into the warehouse for Wednesday Praise. We weren’t the first to arrive and we weren’t the last, either. But, we were required to split up, taking seats wherever we found one. I found one at the end of a row or two of boisterously happy strangers. Their joking and laughter was contagious, even throughout the message. The Ambassadors entertained in a way that defies entertainment. Their inspiration was contagious; their song choices uplifting and inspirational. A few 1960’s songs even took on a different meaning for me that afternoon. Something amazing happens when mainstream is turned into praise. “You’ve Got a Friend” was one in particular. There was a brief introduction of the many groups that had volunteered that day. Again, I was surprised, but this time it was to learn that I was sitting with visiting, volunteering Quakers. Proving, once again, stereotypes are rarely ever accurate.

The end of praise left me teary. Not surprising really.

Regular days are exercises in emotional containment.

Special days stretch the limits.

That’s when everything changed….

 

Quote of the Week:

 stereotypes all roosters crow at daybreak taqueria rooster july 23 2014

Enjoy This Week’s Discovery Links:

Mexican Cuisine: http://mexicanfood.about.com/od/mexicanfoodglossary/

Defining Praise: http://www.wadetaylor.org/William/2014/2PraiseinEverydayLifebyWilliamTaylor.pdf

Quakers – introduced with a bit of Humor: http://quakerinfo.org/index

 

 

Evolution, Part 3: Cut + Weave

There are many shades of innovation. Some are brighter than others.

There are two engaging and admirable industries within Cass Social Services. Both use recycled/reclaimed materials. Sheet glass becomes handmade coasters packaged in boxes hewn from reclaimed wood. Trashed tires become mud mats, and flip-flops.

Riding around Detroit picking up discarded tires for reuse brings tire recycling to a higher level. Repurposing illegally released rubber into colorful mud mats and trendy flip-flops is out-of-the-box inspiring; a home run from Detroit for Detroit. Even the big “D” logo shows up and adds pride to the sandals. How cool is it to tread on treads? Very. Freaking. Cool.

Rotating through various work stations in smaller groups was also engaging. At each interactive stop, we met mentors, ranging from self-conscious to confident, reserved to animated, a bit distrusting to upright happy. All had story to tell: who they were, who they are, who they are trying to be, a timeline of weary challenges and personal successes.

I tried my hand at glass cutting, after almost everyone else had. The basics: run the blade along the ruler at a 45° angle using firm, even pressure. Since all the kids were doing it, I denied my initial reluctance, carefully applying caution and draw. My instinctive “pass” was reinforced when my efforts failed to split evenly. A portion of the jagged piece I created would be salvageable, just not by me.

Our final afternoon assignment wasn’t about footwear, but an underfoot of another kind: mud mats.

Our two-person team’s teacher was reluctant. His nervousness was recognizable; his mannerisms familiar. You know the feeling you get when the last twist of the Rubik Cube nets the results you’ve been struggling with? You know the contented click of slipping in the last puzzle piece? You know the charge you get when you know you can succeed? With 30+ years of personality variation patience building behind me, I knew what to do. This was my right-place useful moment, although, that might not have been his initial impression

I know we were frustrating. Switching back and forth between thick and thin strips of sliced tire creating an unclear pattern while keeping track of non-repetitive rainbow colors was a bit like Suduko, which has never been a strong point of mine. Rework would be required a number of times.

I understand there is a color version of the game. That may indeed be manageable for me. Shapes might work, too. I’ve never viewed the solution as the need to create a single sum on each line. Too busy trying to figure out what doesn’t go to seemingly no purpose. But a puzzle is just that – an exercise in solving a problem. We all solve problems on a daily basis. Some of them are monumental and some of them are minute. All can be resolved; review, reanalyze, rework.

I know we eventually made him a little more comfortable. I know we made him shake his head in bemusement, and later amusement. I know he didn’t understand how we could not understand. Perhaps too bold, I want to believe our failure, could have proved positive self-worth. He was the teacher, doing something we could not. We left him with a smile, and to my great happiness, he smiled back.

Quote for the Week:

ALL can be resolved Sep 16 2014

Enjoy this Week’s Discovery Links:

Flip-Flops: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flip-flops

Flip-Flops, Mud Mats, Coasters: http://cass-community-store.myshopify.com/

Flip-Flop: sound, reversal, circuit, sandal: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/flip-flop

 

 

Evolution, Part 2: Work + Welcome

Maybe angry isn’t exact; anger is a flash. This was more of a deep resentful annoyance over unaccountability and team members who chose not to participate. Had I been in charge, I would have required everyone contribute to the outcome. Admittedly, this stands as solid evidence as to why I shouldn’t ever be in charge.

There was work to be done. Retrospectively, I can attribute unintentional engagement; works in progress. Still, the split bothered me.  Eventually, even the committed became distracted by their uncommitted peers, gathering in small groups around a pool table, a punching bag, and a ping-pong table. The pool players played with others outside our group. There was a proper punching bag technique demonstration by two also outside our group. As for the teens playing ping-pong without paddles, tosses became wilder, volleys less controlled, and soon the game bore no resemblance to a game, at all.  This make-it-up-as-you-go-along ball flinging frenzy didn’t sit well with me. Despite the interpretation, this wasn’t intentional downtime.

At least not being in charge leant me some perspective. If someone lacks a volunteer heart, no amount of pushing will mold it into one. I was honestly just let down; bummed. Unfortunately that disappointment turned into high-energy annoyance when one of the players laughed loudly and shouted, “Is this what being homeless is like?”

I understand youth are youth. I also understand the weak correlation. No paddles, doing without, making the best of things, finding another way to play. I don’t understand how those words left anyone’s mouth while in the presence of more than one homeless unfortunate. I don’t understand the lack of impress; how do you not know where you are and why you are there? No one else seemed to notice or react. Without discussion or direction it is probable that ignorance and impropriety would remain ignorance and impropriety.

Loosely congealed, we wandered into the lunch line. I didn’t completely understand. Due to short shifts, I had never been fed as a Cass volunteer. I had never stood on a lunch line. I conjured up the expectation of cold sandwiches and chips. I imagined meeting and eating with other volunteers. What I imagined was segregation. I never even considered sharing the same meal in the same space with the women and children and men standing patiently between gaps in volunteers, waiting for the gift of a good, solid meal for themselves or their children. I never expected to feel as if I were unworthy of receiving. I knew I was as welcome as anyone. I also knew I had a granola bar in my pocket that would hold me.

I thought of stepping out; stepping away with a lavatory excuse. I labored with this until it was my turn to follow through. At that point, there was no way to bow-out without having to explain. Instead of creating a fuss, I accepted a plate, requesting smaller portions than were offered to those before me, skipping items. The only beverage offered was fruit punch. Allergy wise, my history with fruit punch isn’t positive, so I made do with chewing ice, and eating slowly to match the cadence of my table mates. I still didn’t eat slowly enough to avoid sitting with an empty plate, hands folded. I occasionally made what I thought might be a friendly or cute comment with not much response. Mostly, I was just awkward, caught between age groups, layers of unexpected feelings and thirst.

Really, I just wanted to work.

Quote for the Week:

Expecting to be treated differently than others better than or worse than

Enjoy this Week’s Discovery Links:

Conquer Frustration: http://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/conquer-frustration/

Not Everybody Should Lead: http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikemyatt/2013/01/23/why-youre-not-a-leader/

Statistics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homelessness_in_the_United_States