Giving The Homeless A Choice

One of the most powerful gifts that Miriam's Kitchen in Washington, D.C., gives to the men and women who eat there is the power of choice. I saw how passionately chef Steve Badt feels about it one morning, just as the volunteers were getting ready to open the cafeteria line.

They were standing like sentries along the row of stainless steel serving bins. Before Badt rolled up the metal door to serve the clients, who were waiting patiently on the other side, two volunteers started portioning out crusty home fries and grits and satiny scrambled eggs onto trays, so they could start serving the moment the breakfast line opened. "This way, we won't have to keep anybody waiting," one volunteer said.

But when Badt saw the pre-assembled trays, he started shouting. "Stop, stop, get that food off the trays," he yelled. Badt grabbed each tray and shoved the food back into the stainless steel bins, and then tossed the trays angrily into the sink. "Don't ever, ever, serve the food," he told the volunteers, "before you first ask the clients, 'What would you like?' "

Sure enough, as the clients walked down the serving line, each one requested something different. "Grits, please, no home fries," one said, quickly adding, "and don't let my eggs and grits touch." Another diner said: "I want my eggs on top of the grits."

Think about it: Breakfast at Miriam's Kitchen might be the only moment during their day when homeless men and women get to say what they want. And have people cheerfully oblige.

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