HomePlate – Week 8

Friends Church, HomePlate location on Monday evenings

Where I Went:
If I ever make money on this blog, I’ll have to give a finder’s fee to Hands On Greater Portland. Again through their website, I registered to help serve a meal at HomePlate in Hillsboro, about 10 miles from my house. HomePlate recruits volunteers for a multitude of opportunities, but Hands On works with them to specifically provide a dinner service the first Thursday and the third Monday of each month. What they offer is quoted from HomePlate’s website:

HomePlate is a free weekly dinner for youth, especially reaching out to youth who do not have a stable place to live or are living with friends. It is held on Thursday nights from 6-8pm. While the program is held in a church, it is not a religious program. There are no strings, no judging, no preaching, no drugs, no alcohol, no weapons, and no drama. Dinner is provided by various groups, often church groups. It is served in the basement of the First Congregational Church on the corner of 5th and Main in Hillsboro on Thursdays and the Hillsboro Friends Church on Mondays.

The Hands On generic confirmation email stated the assignment time was from 5:30-8:30p.m. Because part of helping with the meal is to provide a food item, the Hands On coordinator personally sent a separate message to the volunteer group asking what we’d like to bring to contribute towards a taco salad. I responded that I would bring the shredded cheese. She requested meeting 15 minutes early so we could get a jump start on the preparations.
My contribution
First Impressions:
Finding the motivation to go to HomePlate on Monday evening was tough. On “The Experiment” page of this blog, I wrote that sometimes I slip into bouts of depression. I had some pretty low points this past weekend. The fact that my husband and kids had Monday off for the President’s Holiday didn’t help in the motivation department. Not to mention, I am still emotionally exhausted from my assignment at Project Homeless Connect a few weeks ago. I envisioned the HomePlate experience as spending the evening with a room full of drug addicted teenagers. The way I felt over the weekend, I just didn’t know if I could muster any compassion. Thankfully, I have the accountability of this blog. I knew if I didn’t volunteer at HomePlate, I’d have to find something else to do this week. I made myself go.
On the drive to Hillsboro, I turned off the radio and said a prayer. Please God take away my depression, just for tonight. I need to have focus, Lord. Help me arrive with a smile on my face.
Hands On Greater Portland always provides the most descriptive directions to each location,  yet I still ended up driving past Friends Church, where HomePlace takes over on Monday evenings. I made a U-turn and parked at the side of the building. Entering the church, I heard voices from the HomePlate offices to the right of the entry. Seven staff members and interns sat crammed in the tiny office. I peeked my head through the door and told the group I registered to help via Hands On Portland. One woman got up from her chair and introduced herself as Terra, HomePlate’s volunteer coordinator. She informed me that Sabrina, the liaison between HomePlate and Hands On was due to arrive shortly. Terra led me up the stairs to the kitchen where I met 2 more Hands On volunteers;  a young 20something pre-school teacher and her father, who came along to help. We stepped out of the kitchen and into the church sanctuary/makeshift dining area  where Terra asked us to wait.
Pews were pushed to the side to make room for tables and chairs
At 5:25, Sabrina stumbled into the kitchen, her arms loaded with bags. “I’m so sorry I’m late,” she huffed, “someone cancelled at the last minute so I had to go buy what she was supposed to bring. I don’t know the area that well, so the only place I could think of to buy taco salad dressing was Taco Bell.” 
She unloaded 4 containers of salsa. Who knew you could buy taco sauce in bulk from a fast food joint? I am constantly learning new things at each volunteer assignment. I silently thanked God that I didn’t cancel coming that night. I saw the impact a last minute cancellation can make on a volunteer team.
Meet Sabrina
As we unloaded the rest of the groceries, a young couple arrived and announced they were volunteering through Hands On as well. Their shopping bags were full of hot dogs, buns, ketchup and mustard. You wouldn’t think hot dogs would go well with taco salad. I assure you – I have never seen that combination meal at any Mexican restaurant. 
The Job:
Sabrina pulled a huge onion out of a produce bag and asked for a volunteer to dice it. PreSchool Teacher offered her dad. While Super Dad chopped, PS Teacher and I tried to open cans of beans and olives. The can openers provided were ancient and kept getting stuck. Super Dad fixed one of them so at least the cans could be opened, but each looked as if it were gnawed on by a small animal. (Note to self: donate a can opener to HomePlate.) PS Teacher went to the stove and browned meat while I chopped 4 heads of lettuce. Young Husband boiled the hotdogs and Young Wife stood next to me chopping tomatoes. 
Working together in the kitchen is a sure way to get strangers talking with each other. We chatted about other Hands On projects we had done and discussed our favorites. Young Couple shared that instead of exchanging Christmas gifts this year, they made a commitment to volunteer together on a regular basis in 2012. I guess my idea isn’t so original, but I think that’s okay.
Terra came into the kitchen and gave us an orientation while we cooked, sliced, and diced. The organization provides a dinner for youth each Monday and Thursday at 6:00. 20-30 youth are served each time, and some of these “children” have children themselves – so there would be tiny mouths to feed as well. Because the number of young families is growing, HomePlate has trained volunteers for child care on dinner evenings. This way young parents can have some adult interaction for a few hours.
The two locations where dinner is served are close to the MAX line, Portland’s light rail public transportation. HomePlate wants to expand into nearby Beaverton and is exploring location options. Terra said that the Beaverton School District has the highest youth homeless population in Oregon. I was shocked. Not only is this the district we live in, this is the land of Nike and Intel employees. How ironic that there is so much money yet so much poverty in one area. Most of the youth that come to HomePlate don’t fit the stereotypical image of “homeless”. Many sleep on whatever sofa is available to them at houses belonging to friends and family. As such, they have been nicknamed, “couch-surfers.” HomePlate exists as a resource for these couch-surfers, so hopefully the youth can be directed to stable housing and employment.
Terra left us and we continued prepping the meal. Because of the one volunteer cancellation, some items were missing. We didn’t have enough taco seasoning for the 5 pounds of ground beef. Super Dad disappeared in a flash to find a local market.
We gathered plates and cups and piled them on a table outside the kitchen. At 6:00 sharp we raised the kitchen divider and prepared to serve the meal. My initial apprehension about serving meth addicts proved pointless. The vibe in the room was so much more low key than I expected. At other homeless events, people were lined up early at the door anticipating a meal. This place had more of an “open house” atmosphere. Kids in the 18-24 age range wandered in throughout the evening, eating a meal, sticking around to play games, tinkering around on the piano – it felt like a dinner party at my own house. The youth I saw at Project Homeless Connect were not the same youth I saw at HomePlace. These adolescents seemed to desire the right thing, they just need a guiding hand along the way. I didn’t get the idea that people were there to “work the system.” They were just kids, single and young families, who knew they could stop by, have dinner, and enjoy the company.
Taco Salad is good…
…but pairing it with hot dogs is better!
The Hands On volunteers took turns eating dinner and were encouraged to sit in the dining room with everyone else. One great thing about HomePlate is that the staff and interns are so young! The hard part is knowing who works here and who is here to receive services. I wanted to connect with some “couch-surfing” youth so I chose a table where 4 young men were in deep conversation about scootering. 
Two of the men at my table were outreach workers for HomePlate. Their job is to spend time on the streets, riding the MAX, and hanging around schools trying to find youth that may need HomePlates services. The outreach workers serve as resources for these kids; they can be a listening ear, a knowledge base, or they simply can provide a bottle of water. 
The two other guys at the table are HomePlate regulars. The kid sitting next to me has been coming for years. The dude across from me heard about the meals from another regular attender. Everyone was so cool and laid back, it reminded me of having meals with my youth ministry kids back in the day. Only these kids have had a rocky upbringing and that breaks my heart. 
After most people finished eating, the games came out. At my table, one of the HomePlate volunteers brought origami paper and an instruction book. I found a certain coolness about 4 dudes folding decorative paper. The table next to us had a rousing game of Apples to Apples going on. My taco salad gone, I went into the kitchen to help clean.
Fun with origami
Hands On volunteers stood around chatting while dirty dishes piled up. There was no dish soap, so we waited while Super Dad offered to make another run to the market. 
By 7:15, work in the kitchen was slow. Sabrina sent us out to play games with the HomePlate participants. Our group of volunteers started a game of Apples to Apples and were soon joined by staff and youth. An extremely energetic 19 year old boy with an ear-piercing voice sat to my right. Each time a new round began, he’d laugh devilishly and declare, “YOU’RE GOING DOWN!”  This young man took the game pretty seriously and was unnecessarily boisterous when his card was not chosen. Or when it was chosen. Either way, I’m temporarily deaf in my right ear. 
My hand. I thought it was appropriate that I picked the card on the far left.
Everyone close to me knows I adore board games. I felt guilty at first for playing when I felt I should be clearing dishes or packing away food. This wasn’t work! I realized that hanging out with everyone there felt really “homey” and the opportunity for some of those kids to take refuge from their normal lives was probably more important than I could comprehend.
At 8:00 we put the games away, folded the chairs and tables, and made the room look like a church sanctuary once more. The volunteers gathered with the coordinators for a debrief and we were asked if the experience was what we’d anticipated. I admitted it was better than I expected. I really enjoyed the casual drop-in ambience that HomePlate offered. 
Terra informed us about the needs of HomePlate. Dinner providers are a constant, but there is also a wish list as well. HomePlate offers hygiene items and has a clothes closet for the youth that need it. Even though you need to be 18 to volunteer with the HomePlate youth, I began to think of ways my own offspring can help by collecting needed items.
I said my goodbyes and got in the car. It dawned on me that the depression I had been feeling all weekend had disappeared. I felt good. I felt energized. I’m sure God heard my prayer earlier, but I also wonder if one way to get past my depression is to take the focus off of myself.
How to Help:
HomePlate’s website is a great resource with a list of ways to volunteer. Not only are groups needed for dinner service, but specific skills can be put to use as well. 
FarmPlate is the organization’s annual fundraiser In July. Patrons buy tickets to a dinner  with organic food completely donated by local farms. All proceeds from the event will go to HomePlate’s services. I know I want to be part of this – but do I want to volunteer to help serve the dinner, or pay $50 for a ticket to have a fine dining experience held outdoors on a hazelnut farm? Hmmmm, looks like I have a decision to make in the next few months.


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