There are so many things we take for granted: A bed, a roof and four walls, a kitchen, privacy, a closet, grocery shopping. Most of us probably don’t give these items or activities a second thought.
I was one of them. Then I saw what it was like to have none of these things.
On Dec. 5, I volunteered during breakfast service at MorningStar Mission in Joliet. I knew I wanted to help out in any way possible. On that day, assistance was needed with serving breakfast.
The men from MorningStar’s 180 Club, a residential addiction recovery program, staff the MorningStar kitchen as early as 4:30 every morning, preparing a hot breakfast for the mission’s residents. They run the kitchen like the restaurant kitchens I have worked in – clean, efficient and well-stocked. Once the biscuits and gravy, sausage and pastry rolls were placed in the service line at 6:30, the residents began showing up.
That’s when reality set in.
I saw the faces of those who are in great need, of the mothers and their several young children. I saw mothers who wear the heavy load of stress and worry on their faces, while trying to remain positive for their children.
They don’t have a kitchen of their own, or the ability to prepare their own breakfast. They had fallen on hard times and are relying on the kindness of others while they get back on their feet.
But what surprised me was the smiling “good morning” I received from them and their children.
I immediately returned the enthusiasm, and kept that momentum going for the rest of the morning. I thought I was there to help encourage the residents, but the residents ended up encouraging me instead. I was encouraged by the smiling children, cheerfully saying “please” and “thank you” to all of the volunteers. And these were children of all ages, from toddlers to high-schoolers.
My heart felt good knowing I was helping them get their days started, and that these children had access to hot, full breakfasts.
The male residents arrived as soon as the mothers and children left. I saw so many men who I would have likely seen throughout my day and never suspected were homeless. Again, I was given the utmost of politeness, and even made to laugh a few times.
Some are battling demons. Others are picking up the pieces from being dealt a bad hand. But they were all so positive.
I was only there for three hours, but left feeling like I had my eyes opened for the first time.
We all think about helping out our neighbors in need, but getting up and actually doing the job is something different. It’s a fulfilling, satisfying opportunity we should all take advantage of.
Sure, you can say I was “just” serving breakfast. But to the people you help, you are a fresh face and someone who cares. And they appreciate it from the bottoms of their hearts. Even if it is just one day a month, it makes a difference to someone who needs it.
• Hannah Kohut is the marketing manager for The Herald-News. She recently spent a few days volunteering at organizations throughout the Joliet area. She has written a column about each of her experiences, which we will share with readers during the next several days.