I was graced with a warmish fall evening for my first night at NightShift. I parked outside NightShift’s offices around 6:30, as instructed by the email they sent me earlier that week. The street people were already hanging out around the facility, casually talking to one another. It was fair to assume they were awaiting their meal that night.
Something you should know about me is that I am a very observant person, and this comes across as being shy at times (which I hate). When I enter into a new setting with new people, I often sit back and watch what is going on around me before making myself heard.
I walked into the building, ready to meet my team for the night. The first person I meet is Sue, who is the team leader. She is vibrant, kind, and on top of things — the exact kind of person you would want for a team leader on a night like this. In our team meeting, she introduces me to everyone.
“Everyone, this is Mariah. She’s new, which might explain why she looks like a deer in headlights. Make sure you get to know her this evening. We’re excited to have you, Mariah.”
My observant nature didn’t seem to be translating too well. Sigh. I internally told myself to straighten my posture and act more confident.
Sue gave me the duty of serving juice and coffee with another lady on the team, which I was happy to do. We all walked outside to meet the people that were hanging around the offices earlier when I first walked in. As I guessed, these people were waiting for a warm meal. On tonight’s menu, pizza!
Sue’s husband, Greg, announced that we were going to start. “What’s the number one rule?” he said.
“Be kind to women!” I heard a street person say from the background.
Although that was not technically the number one rule for the night, I thought it was a good one.
As I served juice and coffee throughout the evening, a man named Wes parked himself beside me. He offered me great jokes, movie lines, and imitations — my kind of company. He was kind and sweet. I gathered that he was a street person who had been around for a while.
Coffee was more popular than juice that Thursday evening. People kept saying that they were cold, and that’s why they opted for the warm drink. At first, I was wondering why they were so cold. It was a warm night, I thought. Then I remembered that when the body lacks proper nutrients, it gets cold easily.
A woman came through the line and told me that she had just completed her first day at her new job. She was ecstatic; beaming with joy and thankfulness to have somewhere to work. I became aware of how much I take my job for granted.
I feel like our world tries to put a scary mask on street people. They want us to think they are not like us — they are people to be avoided and pushed to the margins. But as I looked in the eyes of each person that came through for juice and coffee, I saw people just like me. People with struggles and victories. People with stories.
Throughout the night, one of the volunteers asked every person that came through the food line up if they had any prayer requests. Some people politely said no, others shared pain they were dealing with, and others expressed a gratefulness for NightShift. At the end of the night, we stood in a circle and prayed for each person’s request. Slowly, street people trickled in to fill the empty gaps of the circle and offered some of their own prayers. It was a special few moments.
My first night at NightShift exposed me to a wonderful group of people who carry a deep compassion for those on the street. It also exposed me to another wonderful group of people who reside on the street each night, yet walk with a spirit of kindness and hope.
I cannot wait to see them again.