My eyes widened when I saw the big donuts behind the glass. I looked up at the lady behind the counter and she smiled. She asked if I wanted one. My heart was set on the giant, round, cinnamon doughnut. It was as big as my whole head. I didn’t say anything and I looked around, waiting for someone to tell me that I couldn’t have it. “I can have the doughnut, for free?!” I thought. I didn’t understand how this was possible. Normally, we weren’t allowed to have too many sweets and if we were to order a treat, we always had to share. This lady, however, didn’t question my desire for that doughnut and didn’t ask me for money. I nodded with excitement. The lady laughed a little, the way that I now laugh when I see a child so happy to get their sweet fix. She grabbed the big doughnut and gave it to me. I was still in awe and expected her to ask for something in return, but she didn’t. She just kept smiling at me. I took the doughnut and went back to the table with my mom and siblings to finish our breakfast.
As I ate my donut, I thought about how nice everyone was at this place. We didn’t come here all the time, but sometimes, my mom would bring us to eat breakfast. I liked going because there were so many choices. I knew it wasn’t a restaurant, but it was something like it. My mom never labeled it as anything and I never asked because all I knew was that we were getting a good breakfast. Some of my mom’s friends would also bring their children to this place.
First, we took the bus to the church. This confused me a bit because it wasn’t Sunday and also because we weren’t actually inside the church. We walked to a building behind it. As long as I didn’t have to sit through mass, I was happy.
Then, we would wait in line with a bunch of other people so we could get in. I didn’t think much of the people around me. Some were by themselves and some were with kids. If they made eye contact with me, I would just sheepishly smile at them–the way I would with any other stranger.
Once the line got moving, we picked up a tray and followed the assembly line where we would pick up the food. Each station had a different person to hand us the food item. It was like a cafeteria at school–except here, I sometimes had choices. I looked forward to being asked whether I wanted milk, juice, or water.
I really liked this place. I saw it as a treat–similar to being treated to a meal at a restaurant on special occasions. Sometimes, we would even come back here to get clothes or Christmas presents.
It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I realized what this place really was. It was a soup kitchen. It was difficult to wrap my head around this revelation because, to me, this was just another place that we visited from time to time. Maybe it was because we were part of the many people who needed help, but this “soup kitchen” didn’t quite fit the typical images that I saw on TV. I don’t remember it as a bad place. I don’t remember going to eat dinner there. We always had dinner on the table. I also don’t remember seeing a lot of the stereotypical dirty, smelly, crazy, homeless people shown on TV and in the movies.
I just remember seeing people. People like us who were there for some breakfast.