By John Golden, long-term Summer 2023 renter
When a neighbor couple at KOFA RV Park in Yuma AZ asked me would I like to do “something different” this Christmas weekend they did not really say exactly how different the “something” was, nor did I have a clue, relative to my life experiences to date?
Being temporarily without a car since arriving at the RV Resort had relegated me to the daily choice of taking a walk, swimming in the pool or soaking aching joints (induced by a Senior Yoga Class) in the hot tub, for excitement maybe checking my mailbox for any mail that did not have a clear window indicating it contained yet another bill to be paid!
Off we went at 8:30 AM this morning (Saturday) to begin a few hours of volunteer work at 9:00 AM today, tomorrow, and Christmas Day morning at a huge facility in an industrial district of Yuma Arizona called “Crossroads Rescue Mission”, a Faith based organization offering food, emergency shelter for men, women and families, and helping those with drug or alcohol addiction!
The sprawling campus at Crossroads Mission has many well used buildings covering probably 5 acres or more of land between railroad tracks leading in as many directions as the lives of the families and individuals it serves on a daily basis!
After finding a parking spot in the clean well-lit paved parking lot I snapped a few pictures of the exterior entrance and followed my neighbors, Ruth and Bob, into the depths of the complex to an open outdoor plaza area filled with other volunteers, kitchen staff and various other workers.
As the sun rays broke through the morning mists caused by yesterday’s unusually heavy rains the place unfolded into a veritable Beehive of Holiday themed activity, a sound stage was set up for a small band, empty tables and chairs filled every open space of the outdoor plaza, food serving tables (and servers) awaited arrival of steaming hot kitchen entrées prepared by cooks who started work at 4:00AM, the entire scene vibrating with anticipation of filling a days total of 1,040 plates of hot food for those in need, accomplished by way of two serving lines, each with seven volunteers ladling out a menu for today, Saturday, of Mexican chicken enchiladas, rice, savory pinto beans, and a bit of shredded lettuce salad, all topped by a large dollop of sour cream expertly plopped on the plate by yours truly, a sour cream plopper of heretofore unknown expertise whose plastic apron soon began showing signs of being an amateur at sour cream dolloping?
Water, soft drinks and dessert were handled by a different group of merry volunteers, many of them with obvious years of volunteer Christmas and Thanksgiving work at the Mission to their credit! Huge trays of desserts were brought in by local housewife volunteers, one accompanied by her disabled veteran husband who later played his guitar from his wheelchair in the Band on stage.
Following the first hungry fellow coming by my station at 10:00 AM, who asked for an extra dollop of sour cream, there was a veritable flood of famished folks, some who it appeared had possibly spent time outdoors in the cold rain of last night! Yes, an inch of rain overnight in the Sonoran desert that only gets 3″ in a full year.
To the very last one, ALL were incredibly, humbly and verbally thankful for a hot meal! To my surprise many requested a 2nd or even 3rd scoop of sour cream? Being myself of Tex-Mex food origin, this must be an Arizona Hispanic food tradition which I knew nothing about before today, but nonetheless managed to ladle out small scoops of over two gallons of sour cream by 1:00 PM? At times the speed of the serving line required instant latex glove changes to retain a dry grip on the ratchet style cream dispenser, a skill-set unused in 82 years prior to today? Keeping up with the flow actually became fun!
The single mothers coming by with 2, 3 or 4 beautiful well behaved children while doing their best to smile and hang onto a shred of dignity tugged at the heartstrings for sure, a few of them were handicapped or had other obvious disabilities! Many were homeless, living at the Mission. As were too many women alone, of all ages, showing signs of physical abuse by domestic partners!
So many of the participants were Veterans of the Vietnam War, it was shameful to see them hungry and still suffering from PTSD after so many years, plus there were way too many vets from the Afghanistan or Iraq wars. One fellow was so hungry he was eating off his plate as we tried to fill it with hot food. He was assured that second trips through the serving line were encouraged.
A local VA chapter set up several tables with surplus Army blankets and survival gear, giving it free to any Vet that could use it. Other tables contained women and children’s clothing, sundry bathroom items and childrens toys free to the participants!
Tomorrow’s meal will be roast beef, green beans and mashed potato’s, plus green salad and Christmas day there will be Turkey and dressing with all the trimmings! Hopefully none of it requires sour cream? For the Sunday Roast beef entree’ my talent shifted to dinner roll delivery person and Christmas day found me delicately bombing food plates with scoops of cranberry sauce!
Each serving line consisted of seven volunteers with kitchen utensils to dispense food to the line of hungry folks filing by. Over 1,000 meals were served by the 2 serving lines on Saturday, 1,500 Sunday and over 2,000 on Christmas Monday. We stopped serving at 1:00PM each day.
These three days were the most uplifting days of personal service to total strangers that I have ever experienced, drawing me out of my grief filled head for the first time since May 15th 2023, the day my life changed with the passing of my wife!
In short, it felt good, very good to be totally selfless in service to others, softening the pain of my personal loss, replacing it with feelings of compassion that once felt, could never be un-felt! In the space of 3 mornings a new persona of myself had emerged, now seeing a glimmer of light at the end of a long dark tunnel.
It’s also a very good thing that latex gloves and plastic aprons were furnished or someone would have to have hosed me off when the serving lines closed?
Much Love to All….Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
to you and your family!