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One Winter Morning

November 1, 2013


It’s a little before 8:00 a.m. on a Thursday somewhere in January of 2011.

I leave the womb-like warmth of my Chevy Colorado’s cab. I zip up my jacket and lean into the snapping teeth of the frosty air.

I walk toward an off-white van, several volunteers setting up and a small gathering of homeless people waiting in the dim, grey morning light.

For the next hour and a half, I’m going to assist in handing out coffee, snack food, juice and canned goods to the less fortunate.

I’ve read the bible and heard the sermons. I thought I would help out and practice what’s preached. Out of work myself; I have the time, and no excuse.

A large insulated container of very hot coffee is the centerpiece of the table. While it never gets drained, a major portion of the brew will be consumed.

Next to it sits an identical container of hot water. This is for hot chocolate or packaged powdered soups.

A guy, who looks like Odin, sans eye patch, sits on a metal folding chair. He’s only wearing a dirty t-shirt and a pair of dark and stained work pants. If he’s uncomfortable, he doesn’t show it. He sips his steaming java from a Styrofoam cup. His long, disheveled white hair and thick beard are the reason I think of the Norse deity. His brow is deeply lined. Not a single person talks to him.

A tall African American talks amiably with the servers. He’s one of the regulars and they all know him by name. He’s dressed mostly in black, including the stocking hat on his greying head. His gloves have the fingers cut away. He stirs his hot chocolate with a plastic stick. He fields the usual questions about how he’s doing, and prefers to talk about better times. He remembers breaking a sprinting record at his high school. He talks about other things that happened forty years ago as if they took place last week.

As if he’s a stage magician, a tall and alarmingly thin man removes a shivering Chihuahua from within his big brown jacket, and sets it down on the pavement. The tiny thing moves about like a jittery, wind-up toy. It’s instantly evident that it’s never been fixed. I’m told the dog is very old, and has had many owners. The current master opens a can of Vienna sausages and places it on the ground in front of his pet.

Of all the edibles handed out from the back of the van, Vienna sausages are the most popular item. They’re easy to eat, whether you have teeth, dentures or none of the above.

There’s a guy near the oak tree who works a claim way down in the canyon, near the American River.

There’s another dude who shows up riding a bicycle that’s powered by a small engine of his own creation.

A young man, wearing an immense, red parka, looks like he’s ready to take on Everest. He keeps checking out the cute, college co-ed who is helping distribute coffee cups. To distract him, someone tells him that I write, so he comes over and informs me that he’s completed a novel and is in serious talks with a publisher.

A husband and wife, who live out of their Volkswagen Van, come by and are careful to point out that they should get the proper amount of items for two people. They look in each other’s white plastic bag to make sure.

My partner in handing out food is a retired state worker. He has a good sense of humor and enjoys keeping things light. He likes to read the ingredients of Vienna sausages out loud. His favorite part is at the beginning, where it reads, “Mechanically separated chicken.” Today, his timing is flawless and his delivery is right on target. He is undaunted, despite finding out that his cancer is back.

To wrap it all up, pretty much all of us, volunteers and homeless alike, gather in a large circle, hold hands and pray. Our leader is a short, bald man with a close-cropped white beard. He speaks clearly, the cold air making him even more audible than usual. He asks for God’s blessing upon us all, and that we will be kept safe in the coming week until we meet again.

Then we say good-bye to one another, pack up the van and leave, each person taking a different path.

  1. Rich permalink

    I am the computer person keeping track of the meals distributed to the needy of all ages, races, religions, creed, or political persuasion. What I have observed is that the working poor comprise a significant percentage of the clients we serve. Many have young children which is difficult to contemplate. We have all sorts of interestingly named children such as Beelzibub, Dracula, Wonder, and of course, Nevaeh, Heaven spelled backwards. Every interesting I just completed the monthly report that showed just shy of 6000 meals distributed during October. November and December are particularly heavy with needs especially for families with children. But as Pope Francis reminds us… Who am I to judge? Ever onward

  2. Ever onward indeed, Rich.

  3. I used to eat these with my grandma 🙂 thanks for the post!

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