Last week Friday started out as a very early morning for me! 4 a.m. to be exact. Anyone that can regularly get up at that time completely amazes me! I only see that side of the morning if I am going to the airport or if I was in elementary school at a sleepover willing myself to stay up all night. But it was well worth getting up so early to experience a morning of serving with The Salvation Army’s Breakfast Canteen Feeding Program. My Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute small group decided we wanted to do another service project (did I mention that I love my small group?), and we thought that The Salvation Army’s breakfast program was a great opportunity to serve the homeless or nearly homeless in our community.
Each Tuesday and Friday morning The Salvation Army’s emergency disaster services mobile canteen follows a route of the inner city of Des Moines offering a hot breakfast to the homeless and near homeless. Nearly 1,000 men, women and children are fed each morning. The hot breakfast includes a hot egg casserole, cold cereal, pastries, fruit, milk, juice and coffee.
We started the morning serving at The Salvation Army’s location on 6th Avenue. I arrived early around 4:35 a.m., and there were people already there waiting for food. It was hard for me to comprehend that people were up this early just to get food. It hit me that someone has a genuine need when someone is willing to get up that early and be out in the cold.
I was lucky enough to get the assignment of manning the window, and I learned quickly that I was to give each individual what they asked for. Some people only wanted hot breakfast to eat, but many people asked for food to sustain them through the next few days. We gave away items like milk, yogurt, donuts, cereal, hard boiled eggs and egg casserole. I learned that many local stores like Costco, Hy-Vee, Target and others donate food to The Salvation Army if the boxes are damaged. What an awesome cause to donate to!
After serving there, we headed downtown to the parking lot of Central Iowa Shelter & Services (by the way, have you seen the new shelter? It’s incredible.) to serve those who are currently staying at the homeless shelter. The line was so long — it went on and on and broke my heart. I tried to offer each person a bright smile and send them well wishes on their day in hopes of bringing some joy to their life…even if only for a moment. I was so grateful to be there and serve each person that came to the Canteen window.
We served at quite a few places that morning. After serving at CIS we headed to the Elliott Apartments on 4th Street, then went to a parking lot by Keo Way close to the Greyhound Station and finished out our service back at The Salvation Army’s Temple Corps location.
During our time of serving, I was shocked to see people from every age range…there were a lot of elderly people, and I also saw some younger kids who could have been in high school — all in need of food. I saw a lot of moms come up to the truck and ask for cereal and milk, so they could feed their children for the next few days.
It is difficult to process the emotions I experienced during the morning…knowing that I was going to go back to my nice car and go home to my warm house with plenty of food. I have always been a believer that with those things come great responsibility to serve those who are in need whenever and wherever you can. Every little thing makes a big difference. And even though small, I was so grateful for this experience to make a difference in the lives of the people we served hot breakfast and provided additional food items to sustain their family throughout the week…to provide a glimmer of hope in the midst of a very cold morning.
Interested in volunteering with The Salvation Army’s Breakfast Canteen Feeding Program or donating food? Find more information about it here: http://www.salvationarmy-desmoines.org/homeless.html. And I really encourage you to volunteer. It will be an incredibly rewarding experience that will make you so grateful for the blessings you have!