Volunteering for the Salvation Army's "Soupe de Nuit" in Paris - Boston University Global Day of Service

Turkey curry and pasta with vegetables for eight people.

Scanning the faces of the hungry men who have been standing in line for the past ninety minutes, Simone tells us to give each of them two spoons of pasta with vegetables and one piece of meat. When we remove the lids and discover that the main course is turkey curry, she rapidly reassesses the situation and says to serve two to three pieces of meat. Before leaving us for her post at the entrance of the enclosure, Simone reminds us to smile and offer a kind word to the men because we're not only feeding their bodies, we're also feeding their spirits.

Bowls in hands, the first group enters the fenced-off area. "Bonsoir, madame." "Merci, madame.", "No sauce for me." "Madame, can you please give me some more meat. I haven't eaten in two days!" Looking up from my job of ladling food as rapidly as possible, I gaze into two soulful brown eyes and add another piece of meat with some more sauce. As group after group of men of all ages pass in front of our table, Simone gently reminds me not to be overly generous. There has to be enough to feed all of the 360-400 men who have gathered at Quai de Jemmapes for what very well may be their only meal of the day.

Halfway through, Simone whispers that we have to reduce the amount to one spoon of pasta and one to two pieces of meat. Regretting my earlier generosity, I explain to the men that we can't give them more because we need to have enough food for everyone. Their grumbles and complaints make my heart heavy, but I remind myself that this is France, the home of the three-course meal. In addition to the main course, each man receives a container of pasta salad,  a roll with cheese, a container of chocolate mousse, a bottle of water and tea or coffee. I hope that it's enough to sustain them for the next 24 hours.

Distribution Center on the Quai de Jemmapes in the 10th arrondissement

As part of the annual Boston University Global Day of Service, Stéphane and I joined a small group of BU alumni and students to distribute hot meals in the 10th arrondissement on Saturday evening. While donning our  fluorescent yellow vests, Simone explained that the Salvation Army serves 350-600 meals on the street every day of the year, with the exception of Christmas Eve when they host a sit-down dinner with entertainment. In order to operate efficiently, they need 10-12 volunteers each evening. They have, however, had to make do with teams of four when volunteers have failed to show up at the designated time. As we were a group of about 12, I don't know how they managed with fewer people because we were busy the entire time setting up tables, unloading the truck, serving the food and picking up the garbage from the ground after the men were finished eating.

If you are in Paris and would like to volunteer, consider distributing meals on the Quai de Jemmapes by calling the Salvation Army at 01.43.62.25.42Alternatively, you can make a monetary donation on the their website. I can attest that the money is used for a good cause - I only wish that we would have been able to give the men more food!

Many thanks to Caroline for organizing the Boston University Global Day of Service in Paris.

Caroline, BU alumna and current BU employee, and Catherine, BU sophomore enrolled in the study abroad program.

Comments

  1. Big kudos to you! I'm really happy to read your post about this. I don't do enough volunteering and I really should.

    But this being France and everything, couldn't they issue more attractive vests for volunteers? I mean, really! (Okay, I jest somewhat.)

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    1. I know, florescent green really isn't my color! ;) Having said that, it was an excellent way to spend a Saturday evening in Paris. Stephane and I also hope to volunteer at the 2nd Accessibility Night on June 8. I did it last year on my own and had a wonderful time looking for restaurants, etc that are wheelchair accessible.

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  2. Good for you! One question, are you using "men" in the old-school fashion, or is there some reason there were only men there?

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    1. The majority were men. I think that I served 3 women the entire evening. We asked the same question as you and SImone explained that they had to forbid some of the women from coming because they were using it as a place to get customers. She said that they would come with a notebook and leave with the names of 10 men who were ready to make use of their services after dinner. Very enterprising but not the kind of activity that the Salvation Army wanted to encourage.

      We also weren't allowed to serve children because social services are supposed to care for minors. Also, Simone explained that they didn't want children in the area because the men occasionally get into fights and it could be dangerous for them. When we arrived, the police were strapping a man onto a board because he had been beaten senseless by ten other men. It was a sobering sight.

      Having said all of the above, I hope to volunteer again in the near future. It was one of the most meaningful experiences that I've had in Paris.

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  3. Sounds like a satisfying experience, Mary Kay. Unfortunately, many homeless people have mental illness and instead of finding treatment they are allowed to live on the streets. I wish there were more volunteers like you who take the time and effort to care for their fellow humans. I like the BU connection, too. A worthwhile endeavor.

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    1. You're right, Bob, that many homeless people have some sort of mental illness but it didn't seem to be the case with the majority of the people we saw on Saturday evening. Many of them were immigrants who didn't speak French. At first I couldn't understand why they were speaking to me in English instead of French and then realized that English is more commonly spoken by people from India.

      I'm really pleased that BU organizes a Global Day of Service every year.

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  4. Good on you, Mary Kay...food for their bodies and nourishment for your soul. Your efforts were well appreciated by all, I'm sure. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. When I return to Paris, you can count me in as a volunteer, I promise you.
    dekage

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    1. Sounds good - we can volunteer and then go for a tour in an Ugly Duckling!

      And the evening was definitely nourishment for my soul. It was a moving/humbling experience.

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  5. You can count me in also. I will be there soon

    I realised in London recently that I had become desensitised to the rough sleepers of Paris as I noticed an absence of homeless in London compared to Paris.

    Good for you. I have done this sort of thong before.

    There but for the grace of a higher power go I

    Denise
    Love from Bolton

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    1. Becoming desensitized to homeless people is one of the downsides of living in Paris. Looking in the faces of the men and women on Saturday was one of the most moving parts of the experience for me because I "saw" them and didn't look past them. It was a good lesson to take away.

      And it's so true - there but for the grace of a higher power go I.

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  6. Well done, Mary Kay.

    Is there ultimately going to be a future in social services for you?

    Thanks for all the great recent posts! Am just catching up after trips to Brooklyn (first timer) and Upstate NY.

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    1. Nope, no future in social services although I do hope to volunteer on a semi-regular basis.

      Brooklyn and Upstate NY? You'll have to tell me about it when we're in Boston in May!

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  7. It's very kind of you to give so freely of your time. It must have been very difficult to be frugal in divvying out the food.

    Thanks for sharing this experience with us.

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    1. Being frugal was the most difficult part of the evening. Fortunately, we ended up having enough food for all of the people who had been standing in line. We even took one of the serving plates of meat over to a group of homeless Polish men who didn't stand in line. I would have felt awful if there had been people waiting in line whom we couldn't feed. It made me think of how it must be in refugee camps in other parts of the world. It was a real eye opening experience.

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