A hand up, not a handout.

On the chilly morning of November 1st, 2021, I made my way down to a wonderful place tucked away in downtown Clearwater by the name of St. Vincent de Paul, to volunteer. I know that it seems kind of outlandish to use the word “wonderful” when referring to a soup kitchen; but when you get inside and meet the staff and the people who volunteer their time to help this place run, you’ll truly understand what I mean.

As I pulled into the facility it was about 6:50am and pretty chilly considering it was just the beginning of November. A lot of people were lined around the building waiting for the kitchen to open up. I made my way into the kitchen and was greeted by this amazing group of volunteers. They were all regulars, so I asked them to show me the ropes. I got my apron on and was all set and ready to go to get the food prepared for our oncoming guests.

We buttered bread and chopped up fruit, which gave me some time to speak with the volunteers. I was curious see what type of journey they’ve been on in their lives and what exactly led them down this path to donate their time to such a place like this and help out the less fortunate. Sue, the volunteer I shadowed, is a retired accountant who used to work for the Pinellas County School Board. She started her days volunteering at the kitchen in 2015. It began with just an itch; “I wanted to simply do something to give back to my community;” she said. After her first time volunteering, the need for helping others grew and grew, and then she found herself going 2-3 times a week. 6 years later, she is still just as hooked. 

It was soon time for our guests to arrive so we made our way down to the serving line and took our positions. My role was simple: as head of the line, I greeted oncoming traffic and took down everyone’s information for the record. They were then able to collect their trays. An option of scrambled eggs hash (mixed with bacon and sausage), green beans, soup, cup of fruit, slice of buttered bread and a bunch of yummy looking desserts were all on the menu and available to choose from.

One by one they all came in, sharing their stories and their smiles, thanking us for all that we do. It was interesting to see the variety of people that came through. Some young, some old, some looking to freshen up and shower, some looking to hook up to a charging station to give their phone a boost and some just simply looking for a safe place to go.

All in all, it was a very humbling experience that really makes you appreciate the little things in life that some of us often take for granted. I want to say thanks to WestCMR for allowing me this opportunity to participate in these kinds of events and a HUGE thanks to the volunteers there for making it happen.