Providing dinner for a homeless shelter gave me, my family and friends a chance to feed the hungry and help “light the world” this Christmas season with service. Jesus Christ performed miracles like feeding thousands of hungry people with a few loaves of bread and fish. When I decided to “feed the hungry,” albeit on a much smaller scale, I experienced miracles too. It may sound like coincidence; I know better.
To me, a meal is more than fuel. It’s savoring good food and flavors, enjoying other people’s company, and feeling nurtured by someone who cared enough to cook for you. I hope the 85-90 diners at the Lantern House homeless shelter and soup kitchen were able to experience that on Saturday night.
I’ll admit, the idea started because I wanted to be a Thanksgiving slacker. Instead of the stress of trying to host the “perfect” Thanksgiving, I wondered if we could serve dinner at a homeless shelter that day. It would put the focus more on helping others, and less on crystal-and-china place settings, and from-scratch pies. My kids and their spouses were all game to do it.
I called the Lantern House in Ogden, but they already had enough helpers for Thanksgiving Day. Carol Ross, who oversees volunteers and donations, said what they REALLY needed was for someone to bring in a meal the following Saturday, Nov. 25. She said that the shelter doesn’t serve meal on the weekends. So we would be feeding about 100 people who otherwise might go hungry that day.
My first thought was that dinner for an estimated 100 people would take a lot of time, money and effort. But when I threw the idea out to family members and a few Facebook friends, the response was immediate.
My first donation came from my walking partner, Kathy Butcher, along with a donation from one of her friends, Gale Anderson, whom I’ve never even met. That encouraged me that yes, dinner for 100 people might be possible. I decided to make barbecued pulled pork, because my electric smoker can make cheap cuts of meat taste pretty good. Once I mentioned a menu on Facebook, there were offers to provide buns, baked beans, lettuce, salad dressing, and cookies. Donations came in from friends in Oregon; friends from our Saudi Arabia days and my singles’ ward days (both a long, long time ago!), former newspaper co-workers, professional colleagues, former neighbors, grown-up kids that I once taught in LDS Primary and Young Women classes, members of my LDS ward and people I mainly know from Facebook. Getting to touch base and reconnect with so many people was what I’d call the Miracle of Friendship (or maybe the miracle of Facebook!).
School-age girls in my daughter-in-law’s Activity Days class made holiday-themed cookies (and don’t worry, Stephanie, we voted and the candies really look RED, not pink!) I had to turn down some offers, because most of the needs were filled so quickly. One friend told me she initially thought she would give $20, but during the night she kept getting the impression that she needed to donate $40. I was humbled by the generous outpouring, and vowed to spend every penny wisely.
Judging from past large dinners I’ve helped with, I wondered if the appetites would be closer to a Davis High football team meal, or on a more dainty level of a Relief Society banquet. The worst thing would be to run out of food and have people go away hungry. So I planned on football team appetites. We ended up with some extra, but Carol Ross assured me that all those items would be used in future meals. I purposely bought extra bottles of salad dressing, barbecue sauce, ketchup, etc. to stock their pantry.
The Miracle of the Meat happened Friday morning, when I did the food shopping. My local Smith’s had a great sale on pork butt — no ifs, ands or buts about it! Because I had to buy some non-sale meat, too, I ended up with about 45 pounds of meat for about $60.
I had hoped to buy a pair or socks or gloves for every person at the dinner, and the savings on the meat helped to make that possible. Then came the Miracle of the Gloves — the store’s gloves were marked down from $1.49 to 99 cents per pair! When you’re buying over 100 pair (wanted to make sure there was enough for everyone), that’s a huge savings.
Altogether we had 19 people who came to help serve the meal. My husband Kim helped me organize, load and unload the food, and served as an all-around troubleshooter.
Son Jess Phillips and daughter-in-law Stephanie Phillips brought their daughters, Jayden and Jackie, who handed out the cookies.
My Dutch oven pal, Bakin’ Bill Johnson, brought his famous Baked Beans with a secret ingredient. (Nope, I’m not sharing that secret.)
I happened to know that many of these people are weathering storm clouds of their own: the recent death of a beloved brother and uncle, a broken engagement, business setbacks and life-threatening health issues. But everyone forgot their own troubles for a couple of hours, greeting clients with smiles and friendly chit-chat. We got a lot of smiles and thank-yous in return, too.
And judging by the number of people who came back for seconds, I think most of the people enjoyed the food. It was great to know they wouldn’t have to go hungry that night.
I didn’t take up-close photos of the clients. I could have asked for permission, but it seemed like a privacy invasion to photograph someone when they are at a low point in their life. The above photo gives an idea of what the dining hall is like without identifying people.
Carol Ross of the Lantern House told us that we were the first community group this season to bring a weekend dinner, and she hopes to line up more. She said each of us was worth $24 per hour, as she can secure more funding based on the amount of volunteer hours and donations from the community. So your time, money, and food continue to help even more people. That’s the Miracle of Giving.
Thank you, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! to those who made it happen (and if I forget to mention you, please let me know so that I can remedy that!): Kathy Butcher, Gale Anderson, Rita Winmill, Evelyn Armstrong, Marian Ostvig, Elaine Jarvik, Marilyn Phillips, Robert & Leisa Sagers, Jennifer Burns, Karen Boe, Terra McKay, Bruce Tracy, Steph Whipple, Jim Seely, Beth & Tom Fitzpatrick, Shauna Lund, Mericia Milligan, Tara Bingham, Kari Taylor, Meredith Lund, Margo Pauni, Jamie Renda, Amy and Trevor Miller, Jess and Stephanie Phillips, Jayden and Jackie Phillips, Mark & Julie Taylor; Nic, Adam and Jack Taylor; Diana , Bryon, Rebecca and Cam Barton; Ian Yeager; Jeff, DeAnn, Dylan and Brooklyn Morgan, and Dana Meldrum, My condolences to the three people were hit with the stomach flu and were unable to help. And again, some of the kind offers were turned away because I was so overwhelmed with help and donations. But your willingness gave me a lot of encouragement.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has challenged everyone to “Light the World,” through acts of service during the holiday season. I’m glad that we were able to be a small part of that! On the righthand side of my blog is a “Light the World” message that offers inspiration and ideas for service year-round, not just at Christmas.
If this post inspired you to bring a weekend meal to the Lantern House, call 801-621-5036 ask for Carol Ross at Extension 104. Some tips, now that I know the drill:
–If, like me, you hate to be “in charge” of something, don’t worry. When we got there, Carol assigned duties and tasks. We just needed to show up with the food.
— We had 19 people helping, and you probably could make do with 10-15. It’s better to have a few extras than not enough.
— Dinner was served at 5 p.m., so I asked servers to be there about 4:15. That gave us time to fill out paperwork, wash hands, put on a hairnet, gloves and apron, and set things up. Dinner was served at 5, and it was cleaned up and packed up by about 6:15.
— Find out for sure where your helpers should go and let them know beforehand. When we got to the Lantern House, some of our servers were erroneously told the meal would be served outside on a patio (as that happens sometimes). I didn’t realize this, as I was already inside in the St. Anne’s kitchen. Sorry about that!
— Plan a main dish that can cooked ahead of time and transported easily, to serve in big cafeteria-style warming trays. If you’re traveling some distance (or decide to go to the Weber State football game beforehand, as we did) you’ll need to use coolers and ice.