Sunday dawned with a shiver. The readout on the car's dashboard said it was 15 degrees, even though the sun was trying to peek through the morning clouds. Only church-goers and coffee seekers were on the road at this early hour.
The smell of coffee brewing filled the air as we stepped inside the now-packed front room at the 18th Street Center. I commented to my sister that there appeared to be more people than usual waiting for breakfast and lunch. We figured the weather played into the size of the crowd.
Young, old, women, men, single, some couples, they were all there. No children in this group today. I'm not sure if that is a good or bad thing. Two other volunteers were already there. They had gotten the coffee going. A good thing since I know little about brewing java.
As we whipped up scrambled eggs, made the toast, set out the doughnuts and kept the coffee brewing, the four of us listened as a few of our patrons shared their thoughts and concerns. Many of them looked and sounded like someone you might have known in high school or who once lived on your street. Most are not native to the area, but find Wheeling to truly be the Friendly City when it comes to helping those in need.
Some of the regulars do not say a word and it's better to not invade their private thoughts. The fact that they trust us enough to feed them is good enough for all of us.
Then "he" came in. A youngish man with a beautiful smile stood before us. He asked if we had a sweatshirt or jacket he could have. You see this man was wearing a blanket. We did not ask what may have happened to his coat. That was not the concern. We just knew that he would certainly not fair well in just shirt sleeves and a blanket.
Without hesitation our mothering instincts kicked in and we scrambled to the clothes closet of sorts at the center to locate this man appropriate clothing on a very chilly winter day. It took some doing as most of the clothes we had on hand were best suited for women and children, but we managed to find a warm Notre Dame sweater and a jacket for this grateful person. He joked that he was a West Virginia fan but the sweater was a good fit and definitely warmer than a blanket.
As we served up breakfast, the crowd before us settled in for the warmth and nourishment that we could provide. We heard many thank-yous and God bless yous from those we served.
This scene is repeated at the Soup Kitchen up the street during the week and at a host of church locations up and down the river. There is no lack of compassion for our fellow man in this area. It just wanes a bit after the holidays and this is really when the shelves start emptying out at these facilities.
Now is a good time to clean out your cupboards of excess canned goods or rummage through the coat closet and give up that extra fleece jacket you're not wearing anymore. Maybe someone else will be able to trade in their blanket for your jacket and you will sleep warmer knowing you made a difference today.
Heather Ziegler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.