Volunteering at Mercy Meals and More

By Rayleigh Lei

“Morning, morning, morning, morning, morning,” Tracy calls out as he speeds in to the kitchen area. He comes to cook the eggs; the toast, normal and French, and pancakes are still being prepared while the sausages have been heated up. The cleaning station is also probably set up by now, as each of the three basins of the sink are filled; the adjacent sink serves as backup. On the other side of the counter in a room kind of like a diner, but with no one at the counter, the tables are already filled with people. Orders have not been taken and will not be taken for probably another 15 minutes, but it seems mean to have people wait outside for a free meal (and free books and free clothing if needed).

In other words, it is 6:30 am at the building Mercy Meals and More serves in. From 6:45 to 7:45 am, anyone who shows up can enjoy a free warm breakfast; past 7:35 am or with permission, one can even get takeout. Run by Reverend Russ and supported by the Pilgrim United Church, Mercy Meals and More is a “soup kitchen”, but people are served restaurant style.

Our team had the great opportunity to work five (six for Lauren and Moe) out of the eight days we were in New Bedford (1). Even though we had to get up at 5:30 am every morning, as Lauren notes, “it was a super positive way to start our morning”. “The vibe there was so positive,” Carrie remembers. As Reverend Russ explained on our first day, many diners enjoy eating at Mercy Meals and More because this breakfast is the only thing they can choose and have control of during their day.

For us, the result of our volunteering was tangible and clear-a positive start to our morning and a difference made in the lives of others. But what is the equivalent result if our movement to end fossil fuels and against climate change succeeds? With slavery, it is easy to argue that it is wrong to enslave another human based on his or her skin color; with segregation, it is easy to argue that it is wrong to exclude another human based on his or her skin color. And yet, we learned in training that these practices were acceptable at the time; it was a movement that created the sense of wrong or the necessity of change. A similar argument to end fossil fuel use is that it is wrong for people who may not necessarily benefit from it to die for our energy (2).

However, in the framework mentioned above, it seems the positive is the lack of the negative. We act so that we can rid ourselves of the wrong. Is there a reason to act that is positive in itself? The most obvious answer from this experience is empowering people to choose differently because everyone feels good in some way. In other words, we act because we feel empowered and capable of choosing differently. But how can we accomplish it this summer with a week in each community? As said in training, we are part of and we are laying the groundwork by highlighting, connecting, and supporting various local initiatives so it may be in the long run when everyone chooses to transition away from fossil fuels. Still, I believe that even in our limited time, we will find unique ways to empower people and have many successes; indeed, I look forward toward reading more about these moments, such as volunteering Mercy Meals and More, on the blog.

(1) The clip below shows a typical morning:

(2) According to the 2000 paper “The Particulate-Related Health Benefits of Reducing Power Plant Emissions”, power plant pollutants cause an estimated 24,000 death each year. Power plant companies tend to build these plants in lower income communities because these communities have less resources to fight them off.

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