“Hi,” said the toddler in the stroller.
“He’s getting so he knows you,” said his mother.
And I felt very warm and happy — until I remembered that he knows me because I’m a volunteer at a soup kitchen where his family eats almost every week.
Bubba is pale, with dark blonde hair and large, greenish eyes that demand comparison to some exotic, nocturnal animal, but I’m never sure which one. He’s a good eater. That’s how I know the kids who pass through my station regularly. Good eaters, spillers, talkers, dreamers. I know who gets a kid’s plate and who can eat an adult helping with no problem.
One little girl, not even 3, had an amazing appetite. Slowly but surely, she ate every mouthful placed in front of her. She doesn’t come anymore. She died in a fire last year. Her mother was at work, her grandmother was taking care of the children in a three-story rowhouse, a fire started in the basement. Her mother doesn’t come anymore, either.
It was a slow day, which is a good thing. Fewer people need us. Yet the volunteers, myself among us, like the busy shifts best. In the two years I’ve worked at Viva House, I’ve learned a dozen small efficiencies of motion — refill the tea pitchers in down moments, carry multiple cups and desserts/fruits, wipe clean with one hand, put down the new setting with the other.
“Hi,” the toddler in the stroller said, his face lighting up. And happy as I was to be recognized, I wished we had never met.