By Marcus Day
Last week I became reacquainted with an old skill as for about 30 minutes I joined a team of volunteers for The Salvation Army/Sidney Street School hot lunch program.
The phone call from Sidney Street School set off a panic alarm inside my head.
It was to inform us that staff and students were ready to receive their hot lunches. Was it high noon already?
We seemed to be well behind schedule, we being a cadre of Salvation Army volunteers involved in preparing 224 meals.
In some ways it seemed like a military-style operation – precision, punctuality and speed were paramount, while failure was not an option. In many ways, I was ill-equipped for such an enterprise. How rash it now seemed to have lain down my camera.
Even at this late hour a forest of brown paper bags stretched endlessly before me, waiting to be filled with bowls of chili, buns, carrots and Halloween candy. How long would it take my fumbling fingers to fill my share of them? Far too long, it seemed.
As if to underline the point, Major Ed Dean suddenly entered the room to urge us on to even greater efforts.
It was then that I drew on the one attribute I had brought to this mission: my experience, albeit very limited, in “pinching the baby”, a term that requires immediate explanation.
Several months ago, during my one previous incarnation as a hot lunch program volunteer, I was shown how to secure a brown bag.
“Pinch the baby, pinch the baby,” said Nicolette Avery-Weitzel, a staff member of The Salvation Army, as she pinched the top of a bag and folded it.
Last week, I replayed Nico’s words in my head as I strove to increase my work-rate, willing the brown paper forest to disappear.
I pictured myself as a demented lumberjack, wielding a chainsaw, making a clearing among the trees.
I and my fellow lumberjacks must have enjoyed some success because, surprisingly, The Salvation Army’s Community Response Unit did arrive outside Sidney Street School at a respectable time, loaded with chili bowls.
My latest brush with volunteering had reacquainted me with an all-too-rare feeling of being useful. It means that if someone were to ask me today what possible contribution I can make to society, I have a readymade answer, a personalized version of Liam Neeson’s speech in “Taken”, in which he warns the criminals who have kidnapped his daughter of his destructive capabilities.
“I don’t have money or status,” I would say. “But what I do have is a very particular skill, a skill I acquired while volunteering for The Salvation Army, a skill that makes me capable of packing a meal.”
Then comes my killer line.
“I know how to pinch the baby.”