Surprises of the Soup Kitchen

My two young daughters asked to work at a soup kitchen, and I’m so glad they did.

A child is served. Credit: Hopatcong-Sparta Patch (File Photo)
A child is served. Credit: Hopatcong-Sparta Patch (File Photo)
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There are certain questions one expects to hear from their 8-year-old daughter: Can I pllllllleeeeeeaaaasssseee have a dog? Do we get dessert tonight? Are we almost there?

Begging to volunteer at a soup kitchen was never on my list. But that’s exactly what my older daughter asked just over a year ago.

A close friend of the family volunteers once a month for a Quaker-based organization that serves a Sunday supper to anyone in need of a hot meal and a couple hours of camaraderie. My daughter overheard our friend talking about the supper one night and asked if she could go.

I said yes, of course, and wasn’t surprised when my younger daughter, six-years-old at the time, also wanted in on the action. With the little one, I expect it had more to do with keeping up with her older sister than anything else.

The girls have not led sheltered lives per se—they’ve grown up in an acutely diverse, middle-class neighborhood—but they’ve never wanted for food, either. They’ve never been homeless or experienced what reasonably could be considered truly bad life luck (not getting ice cream doesn’t count.) My inner helicopter mom worried that I shouldn’t introduce such tangible suffering to their lives.

The crowd at their first Sunday Supper consisted of about 60, at least semi-misfortunate, souls. The kids arrived early enough to help set up and made colorful welcome notes for the diners. Both girls worked on the waitstaff that day, while our friend helped with food prep in the kitchen. The girls took to their work with gusto—carrying trays piled with paper plates of chili, rice, and salad to the foldout table on their watch. My youngest, a robust practitioner of dress-up games, loved playing waitress, even tucking a pencil behind one ear.

As for my older daughter— you could practically see her heart swell as she worked. The supper attendees appeared both bemused and delighted by their small, very blonde waitresses. Many beamed at the kids, and one older, skinny woman took a deep shine to both girls, asking about their school and what they were reading.

The experience was so positive that for an entire month the kids didn’t ask once about when we could get a dog. Instead, they asked when the next supper was happening. They still work as waitresses on the last Sunday of every month. Instead of misery, they were introduced to a new kind of happiness.

Are your children interested in charitable activities? Do you encourage it? Tell us in the comments or in a blog post.


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