Thanks much to long time Casa Maria supporter KATHY LYNN who included this piece she wrote along with a Christmas donation.
She said that it was loosely based on her family’s experience of helping out here at Casa Maria.
I found it to be inspirational.
She even won a prize in a writing contest with this!
By Kathy Lynn,
Zombies. That’s what some of the volunteers called them. Most of the people who came to the soup kitchen were just down on their luck. They had jobs and families and homes but not enough money to make it to the end of the month. Then there were the ones who were really down, not just on luck, but on life. They did bear a resemblance to the walking dead. They had no homes and no hope; they were dirty and depressed and lived in desperate circumstances. There was a hunted look in their eyes, as if they didn’t quite understand how they got here. They came because they were hungry right now, not just because they needed a little extra food to make it through the week. They may have once had a home, a job and a family; things they could barely remember but due to alcohol, drugs or a catastrophic turn of events they were lining up simply to survive. Now they were just a sad little army just trying to make it to tomorrow. A growing number were still fighting battles in their heads – ones once fought on the battlefield.
None of these things mattered to Angel of Angel’s Kitchen. She was always there to provide a sack lunch –two sandwiches, fruit and a dessert, plus a cup of homemade soup for anyone who needed it. Families received boxes of whatever had been donated during the week, usually enough to make at least a couple of meals. All of these were assembled by volunteers, like me, who are affectionately known as Angel’s Army.
Angel was not a very imposing general of an army, at five feet tall and of indeterminate age, it was sometimes hard to find her in the crush of people that either worked or ate at the kitchen. Those who underestimated her based on her size were quickly schooled for their assumptions. Angel once knew what it was like to live on the streets. Now she loved the people who did. She arranged the kitchen’s “lease,” a dollar a month, on the small adobe home in one of the poorest parts of town, from a local business man. From here she asked for donations, recruited volunteers, and supervised the day-to-day operation of the kitchen. She knew many of the patrons and volunteers by name and could carry on a conversation in English, Spanish and even a little Sign Language. She was the first one there at 6 AM and the last one to leave in the late afternoon. Even on the days when donations were slim she would see to it that over 100 people were fed. No one was turned away. When asked how she did it she would smile, point up to the sky, then say she had “connections”. Few doubted. “You are in my prayers,” she would say at the end of the conversation. Each new problem the kitchen faced would be committed to prayer and even though she never pushed anyone to “convert” to this method we found ourselves joining in the practice. It must be working because we are still open.
It was on an unusually busy day when something we all feared finally happened. Sure, we were always a little hyper-vigilant when the kitchen was open. We dealt with a lot of people each day who were angry at life and took it out on those around them. Though there was the occasional dust-up between bleary-eyed patrons, their anger was usually never directed at us and was quickly defused by staff members. We always felt a sense of protection from the people we served, who understood we were trying to help, but we all knew something could happen one day. Today was the day.
“Trouble’s coming,” was all Juanita said as she walked into the food-prep area. She was one of Angel’s faithful helpers who worked here for years. If she thought trouble was coming it must be big. She said there was a strange man coming down the street swearing loudly and yelling at the other patrons who were coming to line up for food.
Two of the men, Thomas and David, who helped Angel with the heavy lifting and act as our unofficial security team squeezed past Juanita into the little dirt yard at the side of the house where patrons entered for their food. At the same time, one of the largest men I have ever seen pushed past people already in line. He dwarfed our poor little gate and our security guys. He was over six feet of camo-covered muscle. His shirt was more dirt and sweat than fabric but it wasn’t hard to guess that it had once been a real uniform. A tag, with his name “Sinclair” embroidered on it, was above one of the pockets of the shirt.
“We’ll be glad to feed you,” said Thomas. “But you need to get in line like everyone else.”
This seemed like a reasonable request and was met with voices of approval from the others in the yard. Not for our large friend. He was nuts. He turned around and seemed to be leaving. Then he swung back and faced us. His eyes had a wild look. It seemed like he was holding his breath. Then he stepped up, nose-to-nose with Thomas and started screaming obscenities. He then started yelling things we couldn’t understand, Spit flew from his mouth. Thomas and David stepped back.
I watched all this from inside our little preparation area. There really wasn’t anything I could do out in the yard, but I could dial 9-1-1. As I started to dial I felt a nudge. I turned and saw Angel, she must have heard the shouting but was more interested in seeing what the hold-up was with the line. It hadn’t moved. This meant people weren’t getting fed which meant Angel was going to find out why. As she walked past me she politely said, “Con permiso, mi querida” and went into the yard.
Angel walked straight towards the scariest man we had ever seen, through a sea of onlookers who towered over her, silent with anticipation of what she would do. She finally pushed between Thomas and David to face the giant named Sinclair. All activity stopped. This was a moment where what’s happening in front of you becomes totally focused and everything else fades away.
Sinclair, in his haze of anger, now seemed to notice Angel’s presence and focused his attention on her. He towered over her and screamed even louder. David and Thomas moved to protect her. She waved them off and stood quietly taking everything Sinclair had to give. Her eyes were open as she stared up at him, but we knew what she was up to. She was praying. So were we. She had connections and we wanted to offer her a little back-up while she talked to God about this man.
Several minutes pass as this Sinclair man spat and swore and yelled about how horrible life was. Then Angel reached out and took Sinclair’s hand. He pulled it away and looked at it as if the touch from another person was a shock. He looked at Angel like he was seeing her for the first time. His large chest rose sharply then fell, as a tear rolled down his dirt-stained cheek. Like the mother she was, Angel stood on her tip toes and reached up to brush the tear away. She took his arm and led him to one of the outdoor tables and turned to Thomas asking him to bring a lunch for Sinclair. Sinclair sat hunched at the table and Angel stood beside him, her hand resting lightly on his shoulder. When Thomas brought the lunch sack to her she opened it and laid the food out before Sinclair. Then she pulled up a rusting lawn chair and sat down across from him, reached for his hand and bowed her head. Heads bowed, lips moved as we joined her in that silent prayer of gratitude.
We see Sinclair almost every day. He’s still scary to the volunteers (if they only knew) but he’s clean now and doesn’t seem so lost in the past. He even smiled at a little girl who came in with her family for a box of food. Angel always makes the point to go out in the yard to see him. She even has him lifting heavy boxes of donations for her. I’m not sure what good things will ever happen to Sinclair but for now he has found his place in Angel’s army.