OPINION: What I’ve learned about community through my internship

Community Harvest donates chicken to Refuge of Hope a few times a month. Refuge of Hope’s kitchen staff cooks meals for dinner guests with the donated food items. 

Kelly Krabill Opinion Writer

It’s 9 a.m. and I just walked into Refuge of Hope, where I am interning this semester. I place my camera bag on the floor of my office with one hand and pull my laptop out of my oversized purse with my other hand and lay it on the desk. I walk down to say hello to my supervisor, and she gives me a few things to work on for the morning.

“What we do here is really important,” she says as she hands me a manila folder with previous grant applications.

I’ve heard that phrase a lot since I started interning at Refuge of Hope two months ago. I am interning there to fulfill the requirement for my nonprofit studies minor. I write the bimonthly newsletter, letters to donors and have been working on a grant. I also have the opportunity to use my previous skills in photography and video.

After working on a grant application during the morning hours, I take a walk to the kitchen. The kitchen is different from what I have at home, where I cook for myself, entertain a few friends or have my niece and nephew over and make them lunch while playing.

Refuge of Hope’s kitchen is much larger. It’s the size of a restaurant kitchen times three. It entertains a few staff members and a few hundred volunteers — more than 300 volunteers.

4 o’clock is when it all happens in the kitchen. Volunteers start to arrive, one by one, or by groups. They slide their apron over their heads and tie the back, say a group prayer over the dinner guests coming through the doors and form an assembly line around a stainless-steel island and begin plating the food.

But before dinner time arrives, Refuge of Hope’s meal ministry staff, U-Londa, Melva and Terrill, cook the meal. With the help of a few daytime volunteers, they place Community Harvest’s donated chicken on multiple trays, grab the seasoning off the top shelf and sprinkle it over the meat.

A few side dishes are added to balance the five food groups: protein, fruit, vegetables, dairy and grain.

Smells of the food travel throughout the building and into the administrative offices, where I walked back to, so I can edit a few photos I took of the meal preparations. I send my photos to the community relations director in a shared electronic folder and meet with my supervisor to discuss the grant.

Her previous words run through my mind: “what we do here is important.”

We go over the new program we’re seeking grant money for and highlight a few important areas on the grant application. There’s that word again: ‘important.’

During the last two months, I have watched Refuge of Hope’s ministry come together from all directions and work as a team to fulfill their mission: “Glorify and serve God by providing meals for hungry men, women and children, emergency shelter and transition to independence for homeless men and spiritual hope through Jesus Christ,” as posted on their website.

Each department within the ministry has a budget, establishes a goal and creates a vision to accomplish their tasks. As each area works to produce measurable change, they focus on the same mission.

Staff members utilize their skills to operate the nonprofit. Volunteers fill in the gaps where staff cannot, and they serve the community. Donors come in many forms, usually by sending a check in the mail or dropping off gift-in-kind donations, like coats and gloves. Grant funding can go in multiple directions within the organization, such as salaries and programs.

It takes a community for a nonprofit organization to meet the needs of the people being served. And that’s exactly how Refuge of Hope operates, with the community by their side.

People serving people.

The meal ministry just reopened their dining fall Feb. 1, the second time it reopened since the pandemic. About 25 guests walk through the doors each evening for dinner and they get their temperature taken before sitting down to eat.

Seating is limited because of social distancing and some guests may not feel comfortable coming inside during the pandemic so Refuge of Hope also offers carryout meals after the dinner guests depart.

A dinner guest of two years, Kenneth, has been coming into the dining room since it reopened.

“Can you tell me how it feels to be back in the dining hall?” I asked him.

“I love it. … I like being with the people. … I’ve met a lot of people here. They’re good friends, too, now,” he said.

Kenneth and I finish up our conversation as the kitchen doors open wide with the sound of a cart being wheeled out into the dining hall, layered with 10 chattering trays with plates of food tightly secured. Kenneth proceeds to tell me his favorite meal here is biscuits and gravy.

Volunteers disperse through each aisleway, handing out dinners and refilling water cups.

I take a few pictures of the volunteers serving and head back to the administrative offices.

Before returning to my office, I take a left turn, walk through the doors that take me to the men’s shelter and talk to Scott, the shelter director. We discuss the next move-out date for a man in the shelter so I can take a few video clips of Refuge of Hope moving men from the shelter into their new apartment.

We set a date the following week. Scott proceeds to tell me this will be the 37th man this year moving out of the shelter into their own home that Refuge of Hope assisted with.

In 2020, 140 men moved into a fully furnished apartment, provided by Refuge of Hope donations.

I walk back to my office and gather my belongings to go home. I am still pondering the phrase, “what we do here is important.”

I think about the nearly 80,000 meals served in 2020 and the nearly 12,000 meals served this year.  I remember the figures Scott gave me: 140 men moved out of the shelter and into their own apartment last year and 37 men moved out this year.

As I drive home, it hits me: it takes a community to serve people well and that’s exactly what Refuge of Hope does.

Kelly Krabill is an opinion writer. Contact her at [email protected]