Backed by 100s of unknown contributors, 20 people working 5 hours each can feed and clothe 832.
Driving into the church parking lot, I notice the words on their monument sign: "Our hands are God's tools." I may not be a big fan of organized religion, but this is something I can get behind.
We load carts filled with home baked cookies and cakes and head to another church in a run-down area of town. They don't have much other than a big space and a decent commercial kitchen, but they're smack dab in the center of a population with needs. It works. We unload the cookies and cakes and carry them down a freight elevator to the basement.
John* directs the loading and unloading processes. One of his eyes is completely covered by a bandaid-like patch. The other eye is a shiny blue beacon magnified by the thick lens of his glasses. Total baldness earns him an exemption from the "everyone wears a hat" rule.
Dave looks like he just rolled in off the farm: work boots, t-shirt, farmer's cap. He's the wheelhorse of the outfit, the one who knows exactly what to do and how to do it. Later, when he pours grease from the pans of baked meatloaf, his hands shake so much it takes a 3-gallon can to provide a big enough target.
Joe has a smart remark for everyone and everything. His laughter is big and loud and welcome in the kitchen. He's the leader of the meatloaf crew, mixing without measuring but getting nearly the exact same proportions in each batch. During the second mixing session, he bumps his arm slightly and we watch a hematoma the size of a grape develop. He laughs it off.
Erin wears a ball cap from a park in Colorado. She moved to KC five years ago, shortly after her husband died two months into their retirement. One of her sons lives here, and the grandchildren were an irresistible magnet. She leads the potato operation. When we finish, she's going to dinner with the widow's support group from the church. The newer members need the older ones, she says.
Janet's white hair glows beneath a white tennis visor decorated with crosses in primary colors. A clear phone-cord-like thing holds the "hat" on her head, a clear violation of the "hair must be completely covered" rule, but no one rats her out. She's a meatloaf mixer, and her white sweatshirt seems a questionable choice once she's up to her elbows in hamburger and tomato sauce. "It looks bad now," she laughs. "But I wear white because I can bleach it."
Eleanor works hard all day, but she steps aside when the hot stuff comes around. The tremors in her arms don't let her judge distances well enough to get near hot grease, but she can judge within half a scoop how much tomato sauce it takes to cover two giant logs of meatloaf, including the minor dribbles to and from the pan as her hands shake.
There's a formula for everything: mix two cans of drained corn with three that still have their juice; 10 eggs in every batch of meatloaf; one cap of bleach in a sinkful of hot water for sanitation; rubber gloves at all times.
Janet saves the egg shells for a woman who used to help cook. That woman is too sick to come any more but misses having the shells for her compost.
Erin flattens the cans from the corn and the tomato sauce and carries them to her car. She brings along her recycling each month and takes the whole load to the recycling center on the way home.
John leaves as soon as the last pan of potatoes goes into the oven. He's on his way to take a church member to chemotherapy.
As we head out, the serving crew begins to arrive. They will carry food to tables, serve drinks, and ask about clothing needs. Everyone who comes to dinner receives a good hot meal and clean clothes if they need them.
God's tools, indeed.
*All the names have been changed.