Remember the Chorus? Ah look at all the lonely people…..
A great song in your youth sounds a bit different now. 6pm and time to open up. Am I first tonight? Only a tiny light is on inside the church hall, making me wonder if Chef has taken a night off. Fortunately he has been there since about 5.20pm and two large saucepans of pasta and a smaller one of tomato sauce are bubbling away. Rest of lights are turned on together with the dishwasher. An email advises me that we have two volunteers coming from HandsonLondon so even if no one else turns up, we will manage.
Looking in the fridge there is less bread than usual and a load of pasta, sugar and tins are in the hallway. The dishwasher is not warming up although the little green light is on. Switching it off and on again does not work as the usual cure for its faults – the heating element is not heating up at all. Fortunately, the tea urn is heating up with its strange noises but the dishwasher stays stone cold.
Two more volunteers turn up, a sometime guest and a would-be chef. After a welcoming cup up tea, Chef gets them opening 20 tins of tuna and one starts on the large saucepans which have been left by an earlier crew. Chef is puzzled by four ready cooked containers of food in the church fridge – we are closed Friday and Saturday night plus he is going to cook the meal ready for the Sunday evening soup kitchen. Hope it is all going to be used.
We do NOT have Lift Off
The dishwasher stays stubbornly stone cold but it does run when I push the cycle button? The water inside is clean and I have the brainwave to empty out some of it and chuck in two bowls of hot water. Run it again and some steam emerges while it is running. More bowls of hot water, two thumps on the machine and hey presto! the orange temperature light comes on. Chopping boards and other stuff used earlier can now be cleaned or in the case of saucepans, put in upside down making them much easier to clean by hand later on.
A lady volunteer arrives from HandsonLondon and the caretaker pops in. The new supplies in the hallway need to be put away. The pasta especially needs to be put in mouse-proof containers together with the sugar. The lady asks me to lift the heavy boxes – as she is 6 months pregnant!
The pasta is drained and put into two huge aluminium baking trays 4 inches deep with two-and-half kilos of pasta in each. The tuna is mixed in and the lovely tomato sauce with cherry tomatoes and sweetcorn poured on top. Level it out and a huge bag of grated cheese is poured on top. Trays need to be in the oven for 20 minutes so we will not be opening early tonight.
Baby It’s Cold Outside
The bell rings and a lone guy stands there whom I at first mistake for one of the regular volunteers whose usual job is organising the tea. “Is it allowed to wait inside? It’s cold out here.” he asks. I let him in so he can at least sit down in the corridor and give him a mug of tea with a small chocolate bar, of which there is a large box. That solves the dessert problem plus there is load of cake in our fridge.
Just after 7.45 pm the doors are open and the guests serve themselves with tea. “Veggie” reminds me he is here and Chef is informed. One trolley with 18 meals is loaded up and wheeled out and the next one loaded up. We are busy and strangely, losing mugs for tea – from breakages apparently, meaning we have to wash and reuse them again during the evening. The meal is very good and there are lots of requests for take-aways. With just over 15 minutes to go till our nominal closing time, the chocolate is given out as dessert – one per person please.
The Debate Continues
Tables are full and the main course finished. At one, a political discussion is in full swing where the subject seems to be State Benefits “….but it’s government policy…..” The guests start melting away leaving a few stragglers. A quiet Scottish voice asks me “Got any bread, son?” He gets this (all ready and buttered) in a carrier bag. Two late arrivals are just in
time for the last two take-aways when I get an unusual request:
Have we got a sleeping bag?
We have had requests for blankets before, but that was months ago. Time to phone the manager who popped in earlier, but has now gone home. No signal in the church hall so I end up standing in the middle of the road outside to make the call. Another late arrival, “Can I have a take-away?” Sorry no! No answer to my phone call so I interrupt the Bible Study class, but no sleeping bags. I relate this sad news to the guy who at least looks young and healthy – unlike most of the last ones who do look a bit lost and lonely, hanging on while the tables and chairs are cleared away. Some volunteers make a point of talking to them, but those who do that are not here tonight.
Still before 9 pm, floors are mopped, everything is stacked away and the volunteers go home, leaving the Bible Study group still at work. By the round-about, a couple of guests are talking and I bid them goodnight. They wish me a fine weekend.
Music Links: Eleanor Rigby -The Beatles
Baby It’s Cold Outside – Ray Charles & Betty Carter
Picture Credit and intriguing Daily Mail article by Richard Price from 2008 telling the original Eleanor Rigby story