It’s taken a lot of reflection to write this post. How do I summarize an entire summer of service into just a handful of paragraphs? There are so many blessings that have come with this position as a summer intern with Open Table. I am beyond grateful to have been able to spend the last few months working alongside our volunteers and building relationships while feeding our guests. It has truly been a transformative experience for me, and I feel so blessed for that. But this summer has been influential to society in ways far greater than just Open Table in the Rochester community. My summer at Open Table has been set in the context of a global pandemic and racial injustice being brought to the light. The context of this day and age has changed the way that Open Table has operated and has greatly impacted my experience and added to the meaning of this work.
Before hopping on board as the intern I had only volunteered at Open Table once. As a member of Zumbro, I’ve been well aware of Open Table since it began five years ago. But between high school sports and moving to college, I hadn’t made my way to the ZLC kitchen to help out until this past spring. And yet, even without much hands-on experience with Open Table, I felt at home serving with our incredible volunteers and out in the big yellow truck. Our volunteers are truly amazing, and I am so grateful to have worked alongside such loving, welcoming, compassionate people. The areas we serve had a special place in my heart because of the two years of high school that I spent tutoring right nearby at Longfellow Elementary School. Through those years in the community, it has developed a special place in my heart, which has only grown stronger over the summer. Our guests are gracious and special people and it has been the honor of my life that they have welcomed me into their neighborhoods and trusted me to serve them.
There are so many experiences from this summer that will stick with me. The many laughs and stories shared in the kitchen, chatting (which is often more like shouting due to the never-ending rattle and loud noises inside the moving truck) as we drove to the sites, hearing stories from guests, and passing out many a freeze pop on hot days are cherished memories. For two weeks of the summer, I was lucky enough to be able to join the middle schoolers and high schoolers for their local service work. We had lots of fun making burritos and cookies. But more than just fun, we learned. The focus of each week was Micah 6:8, “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Now more than ever, we are called as people of Christ to put these things into practice. In conversation with our Zumbro youth, we discussed how this world is in need of justice, mercy, and walking humbly with God. Our world is hurting, yet there is comfort and hope as we take these three actions that God commands of us. Unconventional as it may be, burritos are a means for this comfort and hope. Comfort for our guests to know that people care to feed their hunger—their physical hunger for food and their symbolic hunger for community and receiving the dignity and love that all people deserve. Hope that comes from witnessing high schoolers from a wide range of socioeconomic status, political leaning, gender, race, ethnicity, faith story, and just about every other thing that divides us coming together to serve our neighbors.
Serving with Open Table has led to a great deal of introspection and reflection. I have learned more about myself, my bias, and my privilege through the last few months of Open Table than I ever have by reading about injustice or any other means. When we have leftover burritos that are not given out from the truck, we bring them to other places in Rochester where they can be given to those that would benefit from a free dinner. At the beginning of the summer, I would drop them off at the Mayo Civic Center Day Center. I would call on my iPhone, drive up in the minivan I drive, lock my car and grab my Vera Bradley brand wallet, and head on in to drop off a box full of meals. As I walked through the hallway to the kitchen, I passed by the children of God that took refuge in the Day Center. Children of God who live lives so different from mine that it is hard to think of us as anything but neighbors. And yet, we are called to love these neighbors who are saved by the same grace of God as you and I. We are different, and when we look at situations of injustice such as food insecurity and homelessness it does us no good to deny that, but they are loved by the same boundless love from God. Walking into the Day Center space gives a tangible understanding to “love mercy.” It reminds me to check my privilege and walk humbly with God.
As I journey forward into this school year of uncertainty, I will look back on this summer with a mix of emotions. I am sad to be leaving a place and people that have brought such comfort and joy even through the sadness of living through the loss of normalcy due to COVID and the grief of innocent lives being lost to the injustices in the world.
I am beyond grateful to have served with Open Table and I am so thankful to you all.
To the volunteers that I have served alongside, thank you for your hard work and willingness to serve.
To the gracious supporters of Open Table who assist us through donations, thank you for believing in the importance of feeding our neighbors and for helping us to do so.
To the middle schoolers and high schoolers who took part in Serve Local, thank you for your energy, for putting up with my sarcasm and humor, for giving us lots of laughs, and for your thoughtfulness as we talked about the importance of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.
To the Zumbro, People of Hope, and Open Table communities, thank you for believing in me to lead in this ministry and for your prayers.
To the guests, thank you for your kindness in trusting me and welcoming me into your community.