In Your Midst

Tuesdays in the Cathedral Kitchen

Easter 2011

Reflections of the "Green Salad Man"

The first person to greet you when you enter the Cathedral Kitchen on a Tuesday afternoon just before 2:00pm is Jim McAuliffe.  He is busy unloading and sorting the boxes of food from one of the Cathedral vans.  Each weekday the “gleaners” (fifteen of them during the week) drive round Seattle collecting the supplies from various supermarkets for the four-course meals that are prepared and served to 150 guests five days a week.  As you enter the kitchen Jill gives you a warm welcome and allocates the tasks for the 12 to 16 volunteers that arrive during the afternoon.  She is busy working on the menus for the day and making sure all is ready for the careful preparation and efficient serving of the food.  The guests start lining up outside at 3:00pm.

One of the joys of working in the kitchen is meeting and working with a wide variety of folk who become friends, forming, as one reflected, an “esprit de corps with one common goal of loving service and teamwork.” The volunteers include people from various ethnic groups, different religious backgrounds, students from Catholic and public high schools, from community colleges and Seattle University, and older volunteers, many of whom are retired.  A young man, a journalist, who is a Syrian Orthodox Christian reflects:  “It is truly a blessing being able to serve my sisters and brothers alongside such wonderful people.”  Another, a member of a parish staff in a Seattle parish, states that he started in the kitchen as part of his Lenten observance in 2010.  He reflects that his contact with the diners is limited, but, “I scrub, rinse and sanitize hundreds of dining trays, pots and pans, I do so knowing that I am supporting the volunteers who serve the hungry.”  He continues:  “There is no point in Lent unless we look forward to Easter rising.”  He sees the Easter newness in the faces of the guests as they “choose a slice of raspberry cheesecake over a brownie, drink the invigorating coffee,” and he watches for “the smile on the faces of those who spoon fresh salad onto a plate.”

And then there is our great cook, a University of Washington research scientist, who directs the preparation of the main dish.  She recalls Frederick Buechner’s belief that “vocation is the place where a man’s greatest desire meets the world’s greatest need.” She goes on to say:  “I’d rather cook for others than do anything else, and our guests certainly need to eat.”

We all work at various stations accomplishing different preparations.  For example, I am the green salad man for Tuesdays, working with another volunteer.  In the far corner, others prepare the colorful fruit salads.  Then there are the desserts, the trays of sliced buttered toast, the neat packets of sandwiches and hot coffee and orange juice.  One of the long-standing volunteers at the main table preparing the principal dish, finds that volunteering in the Cathedral Kitchen has meant, “We bonded and formed friendships that extended beyond the kitchen; Christmas dinners, potluck summer parties, and occasional forays after our kitchen duties to the local café.”  And what follows is that “while chopping onions, slicing tomatoes or preparing desserts, we listen to each others’ stories, try to solve the world’s problems and even offer book and movie reviews.”

Shortly after four o’clock the guests enter Cathedral Hall in an orderly manner.  They sit on the chairs that are placed around the circumference of the Hall.  Earlier the tables have been laid with cloths, and places set with napkins and cutlery.  At 4:15 the team gathers for prayer before serving the meal.  The essence of our prayers is thanksgiving.  We ask God’s help to recognize Christ in the faces of those who hunger, to recognize that Christ draws new life out of every single person who hungers.  By 4:30pm we are serving the meal to our guests.
We will never know the full stories of the lives of those that pass through our kitchen and eat the evening meal prepared for them.  We serve around 150 a day towards the end of each month and occasionally we are almost overwhelmed with up to 170 or more.  Some guests are silent and obviously suffering.  Others are cheerful and we get to know them.  One writes his own poetry, another takes computer and math courses at a community college and keeps us informed of his grades.  Two or three play the piano at the back of the Hall.  Some have just come into town in search of work.  Many of these are Hispanics who are away from their families and homes.  They carry their packs with them and are seeking a place to stay and an opportunity to be employed.  Jill and Jim talk about how often guests return to say thank you and later say they have a place to stay and have jobs.

Each of the five days in the Cathedral Kitchen has its own distinctive community of volunteers and special atmosphere. On Mondays one of the cooks works in the morning at Northwest Harvest helping make 1,200 sandwiches; then heads up the hill to cook in the Cathedral Kitchen.  Also on Monday, a social worker attends to the many questions regarding housing and accommodation addressed to her by the homeless.  On Wednesdays members of the L’Arche Community come to help set the tables and butter the bread, and Seattle University students come to teach English.  On one day students from O’Dea set the tables and help with lunch bags.  Our Thursday cook comes from Colombia and cooks Colombian dishes.  Seattle University student nurses come to answer health questions and take blood pressure.  One Thursday volunteer declares: “We are the action!”  Fridays sees a strong community of Seattle University students from Campus Ministry and service learning groups.  There is a group of parishioners from St Thomas More Parish, Lynnwood, who volunteer once a week and one of the volunteers, from Green Lake, has worked in the Kitchen for over twenty years.

Working in the Cathedral Kitchen is a great way to convey God’s love and care.  Our Tuesday cook quotes one of her husband’s favorite sayings: “No one cares what you believe until he believes that you care.”  And another member of the Tuesday crew remarked: “We all experience the same good feeling when we received a ‘thank you’ or a ‘God bless you’ from someone coming for dinner.  And we may leave the kitchen after cleaning up, tired and a little achy but with the satisfaction we did something worth while.”

Patrick White is the "Green Salad Man" on Tuesday afternoons in the Cathedral Kitchen.
He is also a retired educator, a watercolorist, and a member of the Cathedral Choir.

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