I got there about 5 minutes early and a line of about 10 had already formed. As I waited, more people came; some getting off the bus and some arriving on foot. I had taken the bus as well and at one of the stops, two men got on who had obviously been of ‘no fixed address’ for a very long time. They told the driver they were going to the barbeque and the driver let them ride for free.
The line moved from outside to inside and snaked its way down towards the back of the room. People waited patiently. They moved as the line moved. There was no shoving. No complaining. No anxious fretting that the food would run out. The service was organized and the atmosphere was cheerful. It felt like a community.
The choice was a chicken burger or hamburger. One of each or two of one. Each burger was wrapped in foil to keep it warm. The foil came in handy as I saw more than one wrapped sandwich slipped into a knapsack for later. There was a side salad of two choices, and a drink. The tables were laid out with plates of sliced tomato and onion. A standard fare of mustard, ketchup and relish sat in the middle of each table. The forks were real. Not plastic. Napkins were provided. They did a really nice job.
People greeted one another, sat down together and talked. It was a community, but not the community I was used to. My community weighs its options. What do we feel like eating? Where do we want to go? This community came together and gratefully accepted whatever was offered. It wasn’t an evening of entertainment for them. It wasn’t a night out of fine dining. It was a serious business that brought them here. They came to eat.
My guess is that about 50 people showed up. No one stayed around for long. Stragglers were still coming in when I left. I waited for the bus and thought about what I had witnessed. It seemed remarkable to me. These were all people from my neighborhood. People I seldom saw in my day to day. Where they had come from, and where they were going, I couldn’t say. They were a hidden part of my community and I found that a little sad. Sad because I had been blind to it.
I realized something else on that bus ride home. We are all people living on little acts of kindness. It’s what brings us together. It’s what everyone can give. The people I met tonight depend upon the grace and generosity of The Compass. It may never be enough to completely fill their bucket, but it is enough to keep the bottom from drying out.