How To Eat At a Homeless Shelter

1.  Don’t try to consume your food with solely your index finger and front left tooth. Someone has to clean up your mess and it’s probably a wonderful soul from the church down the road who will cry a little when she wipes that unknown substance off your chair later.

2.  Say “thanks,” and mean it.

And that’s it! I volunteer weekly in the kitchen at the Boston Rescue Mission (BRM), and most of the guests there are absolutely wonderful. It’s the volunteers that can be forgetful. Wait a second, BLASPHEMY you say, how dare the volunteers eat! Well, the BRM is lucky enough to get more food donations that it could possibly store, nonetheless consume before it goes bad. That is why I end up taking home brussel sprouts and oatmeal cookies each week when I help out. All of the volunteers are encouraged to enjoy the meal they help to prepare along with the guests at the Mission, and it actually becomes a great time to sit and chat with the people who aren’t necessarily there voluntarily. Here are some of my favorite quotes from working/eating at the BRM:

“The guys eating will spit this chicken salad out at you! What did you put in it? Didn’t you taste it?” (for the record, no I did not. That is what happens when you let the vegetarian make chicken salad)

“You know how people say ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead?’ – F*** that, I’ll do yoga when I’m dead, let me sleep now.”

“Dude, you’re covered in blood from cutting that meat” — “Yeah, welcome to washing machines”

“Give it to the vegetarian” (which means it’s an uncommon vegetable or unidentifiable fruit, and will be given to me)

The people you will meet down in the kitchen are great, and are usually pretty grateful too; for a good reason! The Rescue Mission has a crazy number of fantastic programs to help the homeless/hungry in Boston. Each day, the kitchen whips up six gourmet meals; three for anyone who wants to come in, and three for the residents. Residents have been accepted into a rehabilitation program at the Mission and get to live in the BRM for a given period of time (usually 3-12 months). If you want to volunteer, contact me or fill out this form ( and just show up at the Mission. It’s on Kingston street, super close to the Downtown Crossing T station, for those of you who would rather tame a tiger in order to ride it there than try to find parking in that area. If you’re not near Boston, consider checking to see if your town has a soup kitchen, food pantry, or homeless shelter. It’s a lot less intimidating to volunteer there than you might think.

If you’re too cool to volunteer, but still want to help, I have a few tips for donations. These are regarding food, but the Mission can use lots of other things like blankets, yoga mats (!), cups, etc. just so you know. So. STOP DONATING K-CUPS. While the BRM serves some exotic lunches and high quality desserts, we do not have a Keurig machine, and I doubt many homeless shelters do. Before buying food specifically with the intent to donate it, consider how useful it would be to you if you just got out of jail and you’re living in a room with 30 other people. What’s that tub of guacamole going to be used for? You can’t even look at tuna fish because it’s all you’ve been given for months (so no more tuna donations, please). This means that if someone donates hummus-quinoa-bean-sprout-tofu-balls, a lucky volunteer (aka me) will be taking it home for lunch because the residents will refuse to eat it. Don’t get me wrong, healthy foods are good, but unpronounceable foods are… well, no one knows because no one will try it.

As with everything in life, keep it simple.

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