Serving those who Served our Country

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David remarked longingly to his men, “Oh, how I would love some of that good water from the well by the gate in Bethlehem.” So the Three broke through the Philistine lines, drew some water from the well by the gate in Bethlehem, and brought it back to David. But he refused to drink it. Instead, he poured it out as an offering to the Lord. “The Lord forbid that I should drink this!” he exclaimed. “This water is as precious as the blood of these men who risked their lives to bring it to me.” So David did not drink it. These are examples of the exploits of the Three[1].

Few things are more rewarding than volunteering at the Veteran’s Restoration Quarters, locally known as the VRQ. I always say that I hate cooking, but that’s not entirely true. I hate making the decision of what to cook for others. Our team of volunteers included a sixteen year old boy, a girl with down syndrome, a young woman with autism, their mothers or caregivers, and a few older people, like me.

At the VRQ we show up, put on a hairnet and an apron, and after washing our hands, we put on gloves and go to the station assigned to us. Tonight I was assigned to the hard-boiled egg station. They gave me a screen, placed it over a deep serving tray, and instructed me to mash the already shelled eggs through the screen. Mash, mash, mash. The task went by quickly. One volunteer passing me commented on how I had gotten the stinky duty. The smell of the eggs hadn’t bothered me. In fact, I hadn’t even thought of it until she said that, and even then it didn’t seem so bad.

I have an average sense of smell, but my best friend, Nina (indeed her whole family), has an extremely acute sense of smell. Nina often refuses to drink from a glass that has been washed in a dishwasher, saying that it “smells of eggs.” On smelling one of her rejected glasses, I could smell something, too, but it hadn’t been strong enough to bother me. I’m glad that I don’t have a strong sense of smell like Nina (or my fellow volunteer) because there seem to be many more bad odors than good ones. Eggs don’t have much of a smell at all—certainly not enough to gross me out.

When the tray was full I put the lid on it and stuck it on the salad bar. Then I cleaned up my station and went to where I saw a young volunteer struggling to peel an onion. He had been tasked with chopping onions. So I started preparing the onions for him to chop. That made the task much faster for him. But then he started exclaiming: “Hey! Onions really do make you cry!” At sixteen I guess he’d never chopped onions before. I suggested that he not stand bent over the cutting board, but upright. That helped. Gradually, I took over and finished for him. I know that there are ways to minimize the effect of onions, but at that moment I just couldn’t remember them. Something about holding a lemon slice in your front teeth, I don’t know. Chopping onions is another thing that’s never really bothered me.

As we finished the chopping a man came by with a photocopied handwritten note. He wanted to be sure that each of us got one. It read:

TO ALL THE VOLUNTEERS THAT COME TO THE ABCCM – Man, Women, Boys, Girls

Thank you for everything that you do when you come. I have been a resident here at the ABCCM for six years now, and I have enjoyed the way you help my day go on. Me and all the guys here even the newest ones like the way you treat them, and the way you take time out of your day to wait on them each day while you are here. Even though you don’t know everybody’s name, you still help them and they love having you here. I know God really must have been thinking about everyone because they all like it. And because you love doing what you do to make everybody’s day a great day, I also want to say thank you for being who you are. You can tell by the look on everyone’s face that they had a good time. And this is worth thinking about, some people love to watch tv and some just like to talk. And you know they are talking about the good time they had and how you treated them like a king. And that really is a good thing to talk about.

Your friend and also the head volunteer at the VA,

Michael

Soon it was dinner time, and I volunteered to go out to where they were lined up and bless their meal. Back at the line, I was loading spaghetti onto the sectioned eating trays while my sixteen year old partner ladled sauce on top and put a piece of garlic toast on the tray. I lost count of how many meals we served, but it was a lot.

In the kitchen, we really only had contact with other volunteers, but out there serving, we got to see the men we were there to feed. Some were too shy to look up at us as they took their tray. Others boldly thanked us for their meal. I thanked each right back—for their service.

They rang the bell when we began serving seconds, and they even rang it a second time for thirds. After everybody had eaten their fill we got a chance to talk with the veterans who wanted to talk with us. One man showed us pictures of his nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. All are in another state, and it was clear that he misses them. Showing us their pictures was a way to cope with the loneliness. Others cracked jokes, loving the opportunity to make a fresh audience laugh. Still others continued to bear the emotional scars of all that they had been through for the sake of our country.

Tonight was the coldest night of this winter season: eleven degrees, with a wind chill of five degrees below zero. The cold made this a code purple night, which means that before dark they had sent several teams around the city, looking for people to bring back to the shelter. There are several places around the city where you’re likely to find homeless people. It’s surprising that in a city of only about 90,000 there are 562 homeless, most of them veterans[2]. And it’s a real shame that there should be so many homeless veterans in such a small city with a big veteran’s hospital.

They have a full house tonight. I hope and pray that nobody has to sleep outside in this cold. It has been a real privilege to serve those who served our country. God is good!

[1] 2 Samuel 23:15-17, emphasis mine.

[2] According to Asheville-Buncombe 2018 Point-In-Time homeless count results tabulated homeless, admin, Asheville City Source, 25 June 2018.

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