Today my advisory and I went to living room cafe, part of the Inspiration Corporation. We served breakfast to people who needed to eat breakfast because other meals in their day are not so certain. The Living Room Cafe also offers some job training and internship programs, runs a food pantry, and helps their clients with legal and other issues, including locating low-cost housing.
These breakfasts are not served in the usual soup kitchen style, with people lined up and someone ladling big dollops onto their plates. The notion at the Living Room Cafe (and its sister Inspiration Cafe) is to serve the “patrons” so that they feel a sense of dignity. So, the patrons order off of a menu. The servers, in this case my students, take the orders learning the patron’s name and sharing their own. They make sure their coffees are filled and refilled and the other condiments like the syrups and the sugars are replenished when needed. They deliver the food, return the food if there has been some sort of mistake. They remove the dirty dishes, scrape the garbage into a bin, put the silverware in one bin, the plates in another, the cups and glasses in a third. They rinse out rags and wipe the tables and prepare them for others who may sit down. When the bins are filled to overflowing, they deliver them to the person washing the dishes in the kitchen.
So this is what I witnessed today—the student who struggles in her reading comprehension and in the quality of her writing was totally on top of it, knowing when a new patron sat down in her section, filling coffees without any of her patrons needing to ask, making pleasant small talk, totally in control, totally on top of the myriad tasks a waiter has to perform, her antenna totally tuned in to everything around her, even helping some of her peers who were struggling to keep up; the student who is the joker in class all the time, starting off reticent about wiping down tables and scraping dishes, by the end of the morning in the rinse water up to his elbows, hustling to clean the tables in time for the patrons in line to sit down; a self and familially-indulgent student, frantically working his section, walking around like a maitre-di, focused, serious, and on-task; a student who usually moves like molasses, still moving slowly but with a relative sense of urgency as he noticed his clients were hungry.
At the end of the breakfast, the students ordered a breakfast for themselves from the kitchen. After getting their plates, they sat down with the remaining clients, asking them questions, and listening to the clients’ answers about the history of the neighborhood, their travails, school and family stories.
At breakfast this morning, there was plenty to fill us up.