From the street this spot looks like any other little mom and pop restaurant in the neighborhood. The storefront is composed of one door and one window and a little awning that stretches into the street. The storefront is painted entirely in red, with no special attention shown to the charming traditional wood trimmings masked behind the smear of paint that blends all surfaces into one big red edifice.
When I arrived this morning in front of the calm empty restaurant there were already several men sitting outside on the front stoop waiting for the soup kitchen to begin it’s service. Inside the volunteers were warming soup and beef burgundy for the weary guests. The decorations are warm and grandmotherly. Crocheted doilies draped over the lights. Lace curtains hang in the window.
This place is a calm refuge and the most orderly kitchen I’ve ever seen. Throughout the lunch time one of the volunteers stands at the door and distribute numbers to each guest who comes by.
So we set the tables, napkin, spoon, big chunk of bread, yogurt, and finally the hot food. Two army style cantine bowls are super-imposed upon each other. The one on the bottom containing the main dish, today it was beef burgundy on a bed of noodles or white beans depending on how early you arrived. The top dish was piping hot with a nice bouillon based soup, perhaps a little watered down, but this was the only element that was all you can eat – and did they eat it!
When all of the tables are set and served with food, the first 35 were invited to enter and take their seats. And with them the odor of sweat and dirty hair began to penetrate the lovely smell of food. The joy with which they took off their gloves and basked in the warm room soon makes you forget what odors may be. We gladly carried their stainless steel soup bowls back to the kitchen to be refilled time and time again. Until everyone had eaten their fill. Then we started all over again.
We would fill the restaurant 4 times before everyone had been served. Of course one or two enthusiastic guests would exit the door only to take another number and return again with the next group seated. At one point I overheard the cooks giggling in the kitchen, “There don’t seam to be as many sneaking in for a second serving as usual.” “That’s because they’re used to getting mashed potatoes,” was the reply with a wink, “They love the mashed potatoes.”
While the lunch hour drew on I got to chat with the volunteers. You couldn’t find a better ambiance to work in. Kind hearted souls talked about their lives and what brought them here. And I found out that the volunteer with the longest history at this center was not present today, apparently the priest at the Saint-Sulpice Church has been volunteering at this soup kitchen for 40 years!
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” Mathew 25:40