Hot Dogs, Lemonade and a Side of Dignity

SOAPBOX ALERT: We will return to our regularly scheduled, self-absorbed and sarcastic programming tomorrow.

Tonight I had the chance to ride along on a Mobile Loaves and Fishes truck. Every weeknight, MLF food service trucks like the one we rode on, staffed by volunteers and loaded with donated food, water and personal items, go out to serve the homeless and working poor.

We rode along with Alan Graham, the founder of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, an entrepreneur-turned-evangelical-Catholic-turned-homeless-minister. He is charismatic and beatific: the self-described “happiest man on earth.”

Our truck had hot dogs, chips, bottled water, lemonade, tea, candy, cookies, personal hygiene items, socks (the most popular item on an MLF truck) and hard-boiled eggs (the second most popular item after socks).

We first stopped at a park near Barton Springs. There, a woman named Anne offered me some advice about my pregnancy: “Drink raspberry tea, it tones the uterus.” She said she had six kids. She recited a poem about rainbows and the second coming, and told us all many times how much loved us. A barefoot man with a pierced tongue and a pit bull, presumably Anne’s husband, said a prayer over my belly.

Our second stop was a pay-by-the-week motel on South Congress. Kids were peeping out of the windows of their scary motel room, waiting for us as we pulled up. I’d guess we fed three families.

Our third stop was a dusty vacant lot. One shirtless man had a strange lump under his left collarbone and a big, fresh-looking wound. Alan asked him how long he’d had the pacemaker and he said a week. I am pretty sure the recovery regimen for open-heart surgery does not involve sleeping in the bushes near Riverside and I-35, but there he was.

On our last stop, a guy drew us an elaborate diagram of stars and triangles while talking unclearly about Jesus, Zeus and Satan. He paused long enough to congratulate me on being pregnant, then may or may not have warned us that I was carrying the Antichrist.

We served 30 meals, gave away a few dozen pairs of socks and hard-boiled eggs. I am not sure what we did tonight to redeem these people. A hot dog and some lemonade isn’t going to clean up their alcoholism, free them from the cycle of unfortunate events or bad decisions that put them on the street, cure their mental illness, or restore the network of family and support that fell away from them somewhere along the way.

All I know is what I did for me. I see with new appreciation my bed, my toilet, my air conditioning, my healthcare, my dignity and the 150 different people I could call for a bed or some help before I’d find myself sleeping in a vacant lot. I redeemed myself from petty squawking about my very good life. When Alan Graham says he’s the happiest man on earth, he’s onto something.