Monday, March 5, 2012

A Full Moon on a Cold Night

On this late February night, this is only my second time as a Shift Supervisor in the Dining Room at OOTC in the basement of the local church (note I am not a member of the congregation). Usually I do the kitchen supervisor's job when I am on shift as a supervisor. G, an exceptionally hard working volunteer who recruited me last year, is in the kitchen which makes me feel good about the coming night. The dining room is a bit more challenging as you are managing 35 volunteers (usually high-spirited high school students) and serving almost 100 guests. I was lucky that I had a great group of students from a local Catholic high school volunteering that night.

It begins well as all the job slots are filled by flexible and pleasant volunteers: two scrapers (cleaning the dishes before they are washed), one runner (bringing dishes to the kitchen), two on pre-wash, one dishwasher loader and un-loader, two dish driers, two juice/coffee servers and two servers for each of the twelve tables set (24 servers).

I explain the drill as many of the faces are new emphasizing safety and sanitary rules for handling the food, no cell phone usage during the shift, being polite to the guests, asking for assistance if needed, telling a supervisor if you think there is trouble brewing ... hmmm, did I jinx myself that night?

I go to meet the guests who are in the gym waiting. They seem a bit anxious. Is it the cold? Is it because we are so close to the end of the month and the money has run out? I sense something. I announce the menu: salmon chowder, Salisbury steak with gravy, roast potatoes, mixed vegetable and pineapple upside down cake (made by my colleague G in the kitchen) with vanilla ice cream. As is customary, I ask someone to offer up a prayer before we start. Not my thing but an OOTC tradition here at the church.

Then it starts to heat up, people are pouring into the dining room ... every seat is filled. I have to squeeze in a person or two on to the already-filled tables that seat eight and the guests aren't happy about that. In fact a couple of people are rather rude about it to me. Hey, guess what, news flash: some homeless people are really mean.

Full moon tonight? I wonder aloud in the kitchen ... no, I am told. Are you sure, I wonder? It is the end of the month, cheques are gone, people are waiting for their March cheques and the mood is jittery.

C, the terrific nurse we have on hand who has a station in the back of the dining room, comes to the front and says she is uneasy with the vibe in the room and asks if she can station herself in the front. She says this is very unusual for her. Of course, I say, stay somewhere safe. Soon I see what she is talking about. A scuffle between two obviously drunken men begins in a corner of the room to our left while a young woman, also appearing a bit intoxicated, tries to separate the men. This is explicitly forbidden. Security is not supposed to admit anyone who is visibly intoxicated.

Where is security? G rushes from the kitchen and marches into the dining room in full superhero mode and goes to separate the men. Luckily, the men are so intoxicated that their grappling looks more like a slow-mo version of a WWE event and they are not really hurting themselves more just alarming the rest of us and disrupting the meal. G, using her best teacher voice, commands them to stop. Commands them. They do. And the young girl drags along her boyfriend and the other man out of the room. To me she murmurs as an aside, "I'm just the girl here .." But we are bit rattled because it is unusual to see that sort of thing in the dining room.

The overflow of guests spills into the hallway where tables are set up. They are not a happy group. One disdains a meal because it has gravy on it. Another man barks at me glaring that he has been waiting an hour for his meal (untrue). Well, the food is here now ... I tell him and he backs off slightly. Only slightly. When I bring a latecomer a bowl of soup he says he doesn't want it (rudely) and when I ask him to move to the hallway where latecomers eat he just leaves without telling me leaving me plate in hand. Another man tries to guess my Chinese zodiac sign ... a dragon he guesses? I'm hoping that's a compliment, I am unsure. I am getting a little chippy because people are snapping at me and I am trying to go as quickly as I can.

Don't get my Sicilian up, I mutter as I reenter the kitchen.

This group of kids is quite good; when the meal ends we clear the tables together, wash and bleach the tables and chairs, put them away and haul out the mats for sleeping. Full house ... we can only legally house 45 bodies overnight. Every mat is filled. 

I gather the volunteers and thank them. They have a card for me and want to take a picture. This is unusual and a bit embarrassing for me as I am one of the newest supervisors. There are women and men who have been doing this for many years. I feel odd being in the photo but the kids are lovely. 

I speak to another senior volunteer about what happened tonight. The tension in the air. The lack of supervision. She is uncomfortable with the lack of security tonight too. She hears some ominous grumbling and marches into the sleeping area asking security to take care of it immediately. He does so. Promptly.

I leave just past nine o'clock and it is pleasantly cold as I walk to the subway on my own. No full moon, only a sliver, just feels like full moon tonight.

1 comment:

Christine said...

Sometimes the moon can be full in our collective minds.