Last night, The Salvation Army headed under the Jefferson Street bridge in Nashville for it’s weekly “Soup Wagon” feeding program. The night was clear and the breeze that would occasional sweep across the underpass was chilly to frigid at times. As our 16 foot canteen made its way to our normal parking area, the line quickly formed as men, women and 4 children stood patiently in the cold night air for their meal of the day.
Once parked, volunteers and staff scrambled out of the canteen and began the preparation process which consists of setting out garbage cans, placing eating utensils and condiments on the serving ledge and propping up a couple of large plastic tables for beverages and snacks. Then, before the serving begins, our volunteer Dani steps in front of the line and asks everyone to bow their head as we ask the Lord to bless this meal and keep us all safe.
Once the signal is given, the feeding begins and plates begin to exchange hands. Today it’s a warm pasta with rich tomato sauce, hot baked potatoes, salad, bread and various desserts. Each person graciously accepts their plate and excitedly chooses which soda they want, grape, orange, Dr. K or Coke. Of course hot coffee is eagerly awaiting their consumption and many opt for this drink of choice because of the chilly night air.
Then with plate in hand, they head out in search of the perfect place in which to sit and enjoy their meal. Some choose to eat alone, while others meet up with friends. Volunteers scatter amongst the crowd to sit and chat with folks as they relax for awhile. It really doesn’t feel like a mass feeding; something sterile and institutional. No, this is more of a family gathering, where everyone watches out for each other, hangs out with each other, smiles and hugs on one another. This is where volunteers and homeless alike know each others names and ask how their weeks been and if they haven’t seen them in awhile ask what’s been going on.
I mentioned the children, there were 2 different families last night. One was a single mom with 2 kids, ages 9 and 5. I asked if she had a place to stay and she assured me she did. She was excited, they just moved in to a house after having lived in a shelter for several months. She told me they were hungry and didn’t have any food in the house, which is why they came and stood in line. I then walked over to a pick up truck with ripped red vinyl interior and a dim interior light that only slightly helped me make out the faces of the precious girls inside. They were sisters, maybe 12 and 8, huddled together enjoying their plates and smiling the entire time; giggling amongst themselves. They were there with their father and their grandfather. They too had a home, but no food so they ventured out to stand in this line. I asked the girls if they needed anything and they both wondered if they could have a couple more Dr.K’s and maybe a few more Oreo’s. I said, “no problem” and within seconds I had a snack pack for each of them. Their father thanked us over and over again, as his pride worked over time at holding back his tears.
These are just a few of the folks you’ll meet and have the opportunity to minister to and bless each week. When we’re out there, we not only feed and pray with them, but offer them hope and for those seeking help, provide them with the resources and contacts they need so they can advance from their circumstances and experience change in their lives. I am honored to be part of an organization such as The Salvation Army, because for them, it’s all about “Others!!”