Saturday, August 4, 2012

Girls Night Out at HomePlate - Week 31



Where I went:
HomePlate is a non-profit that exists to assist homeless and “couch-surfing” teens in Washington County. To directly quote their website:
HomePlate has a free weekly dinner for youth, especially reaching out to youth who do not have a stable place to live or are living with friends. It is held on Thursday nights from 6-8pm. While the program is held in a church, it is not a religious program. There are no strings, no judging, no preaching, no drugs, no alcohol, no weapons, and no drama. Dinner is provided by various groups, often church groups. 
Twice before, I signed up with my favorite volunteer finder website, Hands On Portland. This time, I went with the women from my church, Kaleo.
First Impressions:
Last Spring, Troy, the pastor of our church and I told HomePlate we’d serve dinner on 2 nights for HomePlate. Troy would take a group of men and I’d lead a group of women. A Girls Night Out of serving, if you will. 
Finding a group of gals who wanted to volunteer that night proved to be no problem. The week before, our women’s church group met at a pub and I passed along a sign up sheet for those that were interested. Almost everyone was. Even those who couldn’t make it on Monday night were excited to provide food for the meal. I am so encouraged to be around people who desire to serve. No pulling teeth. No begging. Just a willingness to help.
What I dreaded most about leading this volunteer gig was coming up with a meal idea. I detest food planning. When I was a youth pastor, the 2 worst days of the year were Super Bowl Sunday and Easter. These were days we’d have our big youth group fundraisers. For the former, we made and sold sub sandwiches. The latter was a huge egg breakfast for the church. I still have nightmares about massive amounts of food shopping, food chopping, and food mixing. Insecurity with my own cooking skills intensified any time a large group of people depended on me for a meal. 
I’m shuddering right now.
That’s why my “go to” group meal is a taco night. Not a lot of cooking involved, just some chopping and putting everything in bowls. However, the first time I volunteered with HomePlate we made taco salad and the second time I volunteered we set up a taco bar. Obviously, I’m not the only one with this idea. I thought this time, the youth needed something different. When our church guys volunteered last week, they brought pizza - so that was out, too. 
There is a local, quick-food restaurant that is all the rage. Cafe Yumm serves healthy”ish” rice bowls topped with veggies and the optional order of chicken. The kicker to what makes these bowls amazing is the Cafe Yumm sauce. That stuff is sooo good and they sell bottles of it at the restaurant.  Once for a Bible study dinner, a friend of mine brought all the fixings for the chicken/rice/veggie bowls and a bottle of Yumm sauce. I copied her idea verbatim. 
I sent an email to my church group asking for each to bring a few of the necessary ingredients. Within a day, everything was covered. Oh, and bonus - one women at church gave me 5 bags of good Costco salad to serve, the kind with cranberries, and feta, and pine nuts. This meal thing would be a piece of cake!
The Job:
I requested that all arrive at 5:30 so we’d be ready to serve kids at 6. I got there a little early just to scope out the situation. I know I’ve done this twice before, but I’ve never been the one in charge.
Luckily, the regular HomePlate staff and volunteers make everything super easy. They set up the fellowship space as a dining hall. They know where everything is, so all I had to do was ask if I needed something. I asked a lot and they never seemed to mind. 
The eating place on Monday nights
My job was to manage my friends and have the food on the counter ready to serve at dinner time. Easy enough. I began dicing avocados as my girlfriends trickled in the kitchen.
Soon, the place was alive with conversation. There were 9 of us Kaleo folk serving that night. Of those 9, only a few of us knew each other well. So not only were we talking about serving dinner, but the conversation sounded like a bunch of first dates.
What do you do?
Where are you from?
Where do you live?
How did you find out about Kaleo?
What other volunteering do you do?
I love first date questions.
Getting to know each other.
Eryn is in the back pulling chicken.
She is the best chicken puller I've ever met.
At 6:00 sharp homeless teens started lining up for dinner. They grabbed plates for salad and bowls for the rice. And if they thought they were passing on the salad, I told them they really needed it, so they should grab a plate. Just because they are independent couch-surfers doesn’t mean they get to skip their greens. 
Soon, kids and volunteers came up for seconds. And thirds. And we heard, 
“This is the best meal ever!” 
“Thanks so much.”
“This is great!”
Phew. Yes, I was entirely happy that our group provided a good meal for these kids. Selfishly? I can’t emphasize enough how I needed affirmation in that dinner choice. A weight off my shoulders, I could relax and have fun. 
Volunteers take turns eating with the kids
I joked around on Facebook that Monday would be a “Girls Night Out” for me. Truthfully, I had just as much fun volunteering with these ladies as I would have meeting for cocktails or a movie. More even.
Earlier in my experiment this year, I mentioned that volunteering with a friend would be just as easy as meeting for coffee. Now I know that serving with a group of friends beats out any night in a bar.
How To Help:
Volunteering at HomePlate is one of my favorite serving activities. Which doesn’t really align with my fear of food making. However I love watching these youth hang out, relax, play games, and act like teenagers. (The polite kind of teenagers.)
The "Arts & Crafts" volunteer.
She is cool because she has a San Diego Chargers cup.
Everyone knows that people who like the SD Chargers are cool.
It's a fact.
Helping here is easy. If you’d like to come by yourself or with a friend, sign up for a date on the Hands On Portland website. Usually Hands On volunteer dates are reserved for the 1st Thursday and 3rd Monday of the month.
If you have a group that would like to serve, contact HomePlate directly. They will schedule a date with you and give all of the information you need.
If you can’t serve in person but still want to help, HomePlate needs “stuff”. Right now they have a huge need for disposable dinnerware: utensils, plates, bowls, cups, etc..
Are you hosting a Labor Day barbecue next month? Consider asking everyone to bring a dinnerware donation. Presto! You’ve just made your party a serving opportunity. See how easy that is?
GREAT NEWS:
HomePlate just sent out a letter to their supporters with the following information. Now the couch-surfers in Beaverton will get a place to call their own! And it’s just one more place we all can serve.
On October 17th, 2012 HomePlate will be opening a third drop-in location, which will take place on Wednesday nights at Merlo High School in Beaverton.
In the 2011-12 school year, Beaverton School District served over 1800 homeless students.  As Washington County’s only drop-in center, we are looking forward to providing more accessible services to youth in Beaverton beginning this fall.
With these expansions, comes a greater need for sustainable support.  Currently, we are seeking groups to serve dinner, both Monday and Thursday nights through the end of this summer – we will begin taking dinner-group reservations for Wednesday nights in Beaverton in September.  If you are able to provide a dinner on a Monday or Thursday night in August or September, please contact us: 971.238.3055 or dinners@homeplateyouth.org.  Additionally, if are not able to provide a dinner, but would like to contribute, please consider becoming a monthly supporter of our services; contact Terra Neilson, terra@homeplateyouth.org.
The garden outside of HomePlate.
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