This past Saturday I had the privilege to volunteer with a group of my Verity coworkers at Teen Feed, an organization whose mission is to work “with the community to offer support to meet basic needs, build strong relationships, and ally with homeless youth as they meet their future off the streets.” It was an experience I’ll carry with me for a long time as I move through the world.

Our job, as volunteers, was to purchase the food and bring it to the Teen Feed location in the University District, then set about to prepare, cook, and serve the food, cleaning all the things along the way. I knew, on a high level, that we were going to serve dinner to homeless youth. What didn’t sink in, even as I chatted briefly with a few teens already outside at 5:00 p.m. for a 7:00 p.m. dinner, was the gravity and intense feeling of helplessness that invaded my thoughts that evening. This was just one meal. I’m not solving any world hunger problems, much less getting these teens off the streets and into….something else. I couldn’t do anything momentous in that moment. But what I could do—what we all did—was help incrementally, which, in its turn, is momentous. Nothing is fixed in an evening. Teen Feed is still there, still necessary. Our taco salads did not eradicate hunger. But we made a dent. For this night, the kindness and smiling and positive energy were as bountiful as the food. Teen Feed food prep

At Verity, we talk about communities on a regular basis, and how we’re participating in these communities, for both members and non-members alike. I’ve helped at Verity events before, and our all-staff Day of Service (Verity Volunteer Day) was a smashing success last October. The values that shape our daily interactions, our meetings, our quarterly breakfasts, are present in that moment.  But, we can’t always see our work in action. At Teen Feed, we saw the immediate and real-life effect we had on our fellow humans, these homeless teens, and it was an eye-opening and rewarding experience.

One of the surprises of the evening, as the teens entered for dinner service, was the number of teens with very young children. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t that. And it broke my heart. It broke all of our hearts. To think about a young child growing up homeless, it was too much. So we lost ourselves in our jobs, loading lettuce, crumbling chips, beef and beans, toppings, cookies. We smiled and asked how people were, asked what they want, offered conversation where it was needed, kept to ourselves when it was not. Our assembly line wasn’t Toyota certified, but, by golly, we had a good system going.

It was meaningful to help people who aren’t as lucky as me, who perhaps didn’t know where they were going next. And it reiterated to me that humans are humans are humans, no matter what. Despite what I would consider a tough life, there was laughter and friendship and conversation amongst the teens. Despite why we were there, it seemed normal, natural. Here we were, all of us, doing the most basic thing: sharing a meal. It made me happy. It made me reflect upon all the volunteers who help run the program, who come and sit with the teens just to provide conversation, and those groups that donate food and time to help serve good, solid meals to people who need them.

Teen Feed group photoThere were moments where some of the people in line, waiting for their food, would whisper “this is some gourmet (stuff) right here” and the under-the-breath “thank you’s” that we received. That was a big takeaway. We often think of the generalized teenager as someone who doesn’t say thank you or doesn’t appreciate what’s in front of them (we’ve all been teenagers, we’ve all acted like that at one point or another), so hearing these comments in these moments was impactful. This, coupled with the way some of my Verity coworkers went out of their way to accommodate special requests, like nachos for a young child, or tea for someone else, was incredible. Some of us walked through the dining area, chatting, offering cookies or more fruit. I think all of us would say it was something we’ll remember for a long time.

There’s much more to write and say, but I’ll leave you with the immortal words of Smoochie the Rhino from Death to Smoochie: “You can’t change the world but you can make a dent.” That night, we all made a dent.  And with enough dents, I think we can change the world. So keep denting, Verity. Keep denting.

Matthew Kingston

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