Prepare your area. For most this is the kitchen, but it can be done in backyards, cultural halls, church gyms, and parks—even gathered around temporary tables in a brightly lit corner of a conference center, as we found during the service portion of the U.N. Civil Society Conference in Salt Lake City, when over 4,000 volunteers gathered to package meals for children who are food insecure. The project was sponsored by Feeding Children International, Just Serve, American Airlines, and Lifting Hands International.
Gather the ingredients—the food and the drink and the people. The food can be the main event, or it can be an accompaniment, but it is always a highlight, always meaningful. As are the people who do the shopping and chopping and baking and frying and cleaning and sweeping and the countless other tasks that need to be done to accomplish ‘the meal,’ whether it is breakfast or dinner or lunch or a snack. They are always there, in the background, the women with hands busy ministering to everyone and anyone who falls within their immediate vicinity and even some who don’t, feeding not only their bodies but their hearts and souls as well. The meals are different every time—sometimes pastas or salads or sandwiches or soup or fruit and vegetables laid out on overflowing platters and plates marching down buffets surrounded by laughing and talk and goodwill, the food a bounty that feeds and nourishes and connects, making the space between one another smaller with every plate of food carefully prepared.
Set the scene—the conversation is always important. The U.N. was no exception, and those who attended gathered together in the early mornings for breakfast, or midafternoon for lunch, to talk and compare notes and coo over babies and teenagers and mothers and friends. And all day long over the course of three days, attendees and other volunteers took turns to roll up their sleeves, tie on white plastic aprons, and slip on plastic gloves and colored hairnets, cluster around tables together and package meals, one after another in long assembly lines, music playing in the background as team leaders called out encouragement and instructions and cheers when milestones were reached: first 10,000, and then 30,000, and then 100,000, until finally the goal of 350,000 was reached and then passed, and then completely eclipsed by the final tally which came in at over a half million meals packaged, one cup of pasta at a time, by brothers and sisters and neighbors and friends who sat and served and talked and then ate together, meals that do far more than nourish, but tie us together, connect us to one another and help us become more empathetic, more vulnerable, and in the end, more human.