December 16, 2009

Orange juice.

Before I met Wes, I had never seen someone really enjoy a glass of orange juice.

I met Wes on my first day volunteering at the local soup kitchen earlier this year. He was friendly, sometimes boisterous, and everyone loved him. The amount of charisma that he held in his 68-year-old body put me to shame: I was convinced that there wasn’t a human alive that didn’t fall in love with Wes as soon as they met him.

Wes had no family. His parents passed away when he was in his late teens, and there wasn’t much of an extended family around to take care of him. His wife had died early into their marriage; he never remarried. Wes spent his years working as a handyman, fixing things at a factory in Philadelphia when they needed fixing. When the factory closed about fifteen years ago, Wes was unemployed, with no savings, no family, and few resources to help him get by. He made it to DC at the age of 63, and has been living in subsidized housing in the city for the past five years.

I didn’t have a regular schedule at the soup kitchen, but every time I would return on a Sunday morning, Wes would be there to greet me with a friendly smile and a few words of wisdom. He never once complained, and was always thankful that the soup kitchen existed so that he could have a well-cooked meal a few nights and days a week.

I was serving orange juice one sweltering Sunday morning in early July, when Wes tapped me on the shoulder and said, Vasta, let me show you how much I enjoy this orange juice.”

I watched him drink the orange juice slowly, relishing each gulp as it went down his throat. After he had finished the glass, he turned to me and said (I’m paraphrasing), Vasta, you may think that was just a glass of orange juice, but to me, it was proof that on this hot summer day, someone cared enough for me to help me stay not just fed, but also cool and refreshed. Thank you for caring.”

It’s easy to take food for granted. When I’m hungry, I open the fridge, and if that’s empty, I walk down the street for take-out. Not everyone has that luxury, and I’m reminded of that every time I see Wes and the others at the soup kitchen.

This holiday season, if you have the means to do so, support an organization that helps bring food to the tables of people that don’t have the same kind of access that you do. It doesn’t matter if you donate canned goods to the food bank, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or attend an event like HoHoTO — if you can, try to do something for the people around you that need some help to keep food on the table.