Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Couple Hours in Oakland

We served early dinner for some fifty senior citizens in a center in Oakland today. Some of them are homeless, some are not. The seniors must be registered with the center and then they would be eligible for dollar meal. Today it was green peas, corns, baked ham and dinner rolls, and due to our lack of information on legwork, no desserts.

As we were preparing for the dinner, they gathered at the tables and chatted with fellow tablemates. Coffee and tea were self-served and free. Occasionally, some of them came to us and asked for sugar, some asked for cookies to go with the coffee or tea. I brought out the sugar and moved the cookie jar to serving area. These proven to be illegal, as the receptionist, being a street smart, told us reasons why we are not supposed to leave those things out. Everything needed to be served because otherwise they will leave with the whole container for themselves. I paused not really understanding how one should behave wisely to somebody with a hard street life while preserving that person's dignity.

Some of us adults had reservation to actually interact with the people we served. "They smell," said one, the word "bum" came a lot from her. The Catholic school children who volunteers for their social hours seem to not minding anything though. Their parents taught them well. As for me, I volunteered the dish washing. The industrial dishwasher worked well as far as water and temperature go. The degreaser and bleach, on the other hand, seemed to be not properly sucked into the machine via the plastic tubes. We dried the dishes, mopped the floor, took out trash and left the center cleaner than we got in. An excellent team work with no unnecessary drama.

Afterward, some of us went together to feed ourselves dinner at a nearby Chinatown noodle place. What was sad about this is that we do not at all mind spending money for our meals, an amount that is nothing compared to what we get from our wages. That whole dollar the seniors spent on their meal this afternoon might be a big portion of what they have for the day's work. This also digresses me to contemplate about giving-- giving being the opposite of saving and spending. When we, the "haves", give, we tend to give from our abundance. That one story from the Bible about the poor widow that put her whole possession into collection basket tells us what might happen on the other side of the spectrum.

Speaking of Oakland, it is of course not the safest and cleanest city in the Bay Area. In fact, it is a whole different world from manicured community where my apartment and office are located. The sky is blue in my 'hood, the kids are playing in the park, people walk their dogs, and we put things on recycle bins. As I called my friend for direction--I was lost exiting a highway--I can clearly heard the sound of siren in the background. Another friend of mine was greeted with the view of a cop handcuffing a person as he exited the same highway.

All in all, I am glad for centers like this. We need to support people in need. A little of something, being time or money, goes further in this part of the world.

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