Cooking With a Mission: Dual Perspectives, One Conclusion

Chloe’s take: An exercise in humility

I arrived at the House of Mercy Mission in Newark on Saturday morning for Pass It Along’s Cooking With a Mission program. I was immediately greeted by two church volunteers and given a short tour of the place, before heading down into the kitchen area. In the kitchen, I joined the other Pass It Along volunteers and the program’s work began.

First, we unloaded trays of chicken, rice, and beans (the lunch meal for the day) and then heated them in the ovens. While the food was warming up, we began packing plastic bags with water bottles, bananas, and sugar cookies. Shortly thereafter, the food was ready and we loaded portions of the chicken, rice, and beans into Styrofoam trays. We then placed the trays into the plastic bags filled with the other goodies and began piling them, so that the lunch could be brought up to those on the receiving end. At times, the voices of the practicing choir could be heard, which created a serene working environment.

Once the lunches were all packed, we helped distribute them to the church’s beneficiaries along with House of Mercy Mission volunteers. In addition to the lunches, sweets, bread, tomatoes, and onions were also given out. It was a powerful part of the day. I saw individuals of all ages, including those whom seemed to be of a similar age to myself (which was particularly jarring), and families, many of whom had small children with them. The majority thanked me. They thanked me for something I take advantage of at least three times a day without a moment’s thought.

Their gratitude was overwhelming and extremely humbling. It reminded me just how blessed I am.


Maren’s view:

I was happy to show up early to Pizza Bistro to pick up the food for our Cooking with a Mission program this past Saturday. Tim, the owner, head chef, and Culinary Institute of America grad, is a wonderful culinary artisan…on top of being just the kindest and enthusiastically sarcastic person. A visit to the restaurant is always a great way to start the weekend.

I was quickly prepped, pep talked, instructed, razzed, and sent on my way from Sparta to the Mission. There was work to do.

My drive was complicated by the intoxicating aroma wafting from the carefully stacked trays, which effectively “ate up” all the available real estate in my vehicle. 150 lunches translates to A LOT of food and supplies, even just for one simple meal. I did manage to resist pulling over to sample the wares, though, and completed the short trip to Newark enveloped in a cloud of yumminess.

When I got to the Mission, everything from there happened in a blur of activity: parking, unloading, oven-loading, lunch bag prepping, and scooping, scooping, scooping, scooping. When my back started to hurt from being hunched over the long folding tables stuffing food and water bottles in lunch bags, I could feel myself getting a little cranky, until it hit me: what would make me more uncomfortable and cranky? Being hungry, or dealing with a little back pain? The answer was swift and unwavering. I find hunger to be extremely disruptive: I can’t concentrate, I get headaches, not to mention the dourness that overcomes my mood when I’m running on empty…and those are just effects from running a few hours behind on my meal schedule. The back pain is highly temporary and can be relived by walking it off and improving my posture. With this eye-opening perspective, I quickly redoubled packing efforts after a short shoulder stretch. 

My absolute highlight of the day, though, was getting to see some of the Tilly’s Kids from our summer programs at Swartswood State Park and Tilly’s Camp, who just happened to stop by the Mission on Saturday. I was greeted by surprised smiles, “What are YOU doing here!!’s,” and hugs, hugs, hugs. Wonderful does not begin to describe the reception we received, and their smiling faces were alone well worth the drive to the city—not to mention the appreciations sounded by adults who were recipients of the noontime meal.

Sadly, the program is not offered in November or December, since there are other holiday and outreach events happening at HOMM, so it’s likely that I won’t see another Cooking with a Mission program during my tenure as a PIA AmeriCorps. But, who knows? Maybe I will make a cameo appearance in CWAM in 2014!

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