Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Fundraiser

On March 19th, this home for orphaned children with HIV and AIDS in Kingston, Jamaica, burned down. The children, who had so little to begin with, were left with nothing. They and their caregivers have been shoe-horned into the nooks and crannies of other facilities for the moment, but a fundraising effort is being made to rebuild the home.

The youth group at my church had been there on mission trips a few times in the last few years, so they jumped at the chance to help. An announcement was made that there would be a dinner and entertainment on Saturday May 30th. Ken and I bought tickets, $15 per head for a 3-course meal and live music. A pretty good bargain, I thought! We had no idea what we were in for.

Initially my concern was that the evening would be poorly organized. I pictured us eating hot dogs off cheap paper plates. I imagined badly rehearsed skits and out-of-tune singing. Worst-case scenario, I was a little worried that the dinner might give us food poisoning. I mean really, these teenagers from the youth group- what do they know about food safety?

Fortunately there were adult volunteers to help with the food prep. One of them asked Ken and I if we would help serve the dinner. I pictured myself striding gracefully between tables, serving plates with a flourish, smiling, stopping to chat with the dinners. I dressed nicely for the occasion.

The evening turned out to be both better and worse than I'd imagined.

When we arrived at six o'clock, I was amazed by the transformation which had turned the church's basement gymnasium into an intimate, high-end restaurant. White fairy lights were strung from the ceiling, and tea-light candles flickered invitingly. Each table was set with a dark green tablecloth and a centrepiece of sand, seashells, and dried reeds, representing Jamaica. A well-stocked crafts table was doing a brisk business, and the snack bar beckoned with trays of home-baked brownes, cookies, muffins, and gingerbread.

Ken and I took our seats just in time for the MC's, two teenagers, to announce the beginning of the evening's entertainment. The opening acts were fabulous. A trio of boys sang Stand By Me in three part harmony. Two girls played four-handed piano duets. One teenager played Pachelbel's cannon beautifully while his friend beat-boxed overtop - and it sounded fantastic, not terrible like you might be thinking. We were just settling in and getting ready to enjoy ourselves, when we were called upon to help in the kitchen.

The salad course was easy. One plate per person, and make sure the water jugs are filled. No problem. The main course: that's when things got complicated. Each person had a slip of paper with several options on it. They were to tick off the items they wanted, and then return the paper to their server. The kitchen would then plate customized meals according to each ticket.

Bad idea! If I'm ever involved in planning a fundraising dinner, the rule will be this: everyone eats the same thing, with exceptions made only for food allergies. Doing a customized dinner for each person in the room was pretty much beyond the capabilities of our completely disorganized and amateur kitchen staff.

The food trays were not laid out in the same order as the choices appeared on the tickets. Therefore it was very easy for a server to forget an item. It also meant that instead of proceeding along the serving area in orderly lines, all of us chefs were running around like chickens with our heads cut off, bumping into each other.

The evening was also too successful for its own good. The organizers had expected around 80 people. They got 160. On top of that, certain food choices were much more popular than others, so we started running out of things before even one third of the tables had been fed. Announcements were made. We're out of rice and peas; you're getting plain rice. We're out of plain rice; you're getting pasta. We're out of almost everything; you're getting what we put on the plate in front of you and don't even think about complaining. At one point Ken ran out in the middle of a downpour of rain, without an umbrella, to buy 10 lbs of cooked rice from a nearby restaurant. Our hero! Our very wet hero.

Eventually everyone had a plate in front of them filled with food, although by the end the plates bore no resemblance whatsoever to the order tickets. Then, before the kitchen staff even had a chance to finish our own dinners (which, by the way, were well-cooked and tasty), the dirty plates started coming back.

There is a commercial dishwasher in the church kitchen, but it's small. There was no way we could do all the dishes in the dishwasher, so the volunteers rolled up their sleeves and started washing by hand. 160 salad plates. 160 dinner plates. Knives, forks, and cups. And eventually dessert plates, covered in gloppy cake and icing that the dishwasher couldn't dissolve. We worked, oh how we worked. We sweated puddles. My nice serving outfit was in a shambles. We scrubbed and dried and stacked and scraped until past 10:30 at night.

My feet ached. My back hurt. My arms and hands were dead tired. And yet, I had no regrets. Anytime I wanted to throw down my dishtowel and go home, I remembered that we were doing this for the AIDS orphans, and which point I laughed at the idea that I was "suffering", and stepped up my efforts with renewed enthusiasm.

We got to know the other kitchen helpers better than we'd known them before. We became a tightly knit team in that hot, pressure-cooker.

That night I woke at 3:30 am, dreaming of washing dishes. But I'd do it all over again. The final fundraising total was $ 2094.80.


SoMi's Nilsa said...

Volunteering is hard work. And waiting on tables is also hard. Combine the two and wow! I'm impressed you kept your cool. I probably would've blown a gasket at someone if I were in your shoes! Glad, though, to hear the orphans in Jamaica will be receiving some much-needed support.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

Awesome! Congrat to the entire church for doing something to help and congrats for stepping up and doing a good deed. This should make up for someone serving tea and snacks at your wedding. Way to pay it forward.

LL Cool Joe said...

That's another great story!

Sounds like it was a wonderful evening, and well done for raising so much money. I can imagine it was hard to keep the food hot too?

I love it when the church is seen to be doing something for the community and not just "Bible thumping" or "Bible bashing" as we call here in the UK.

Scarlet said...

What a success!! You did an awesome job, you and your soaking wet husband! :) All of the volunteers deserve a HUGE round of applause!

unsigned said...

Way to go! You're my hero!

NicoleB said...

Well done!
People learn with every event they do.
I did it for three years in the Hotel I worked for.
And yes, every time you want to throw the towel you think about why you do it and keep going :)

Dianne said...

oh good on you!

I think one meal would surely have been better but wow did you persevere!

and hats off to Ken, he is a bit of a super hero isn't he

wigsf said...

Shoulda charged more than 15 bucks a head.

Aurora said...

First off congrats to everyone for raising so much money. that's a great endeavour.
second, wow: they ran out of *rice*! that's shocking.

Jenski said...

The youth group must have been so excited! Hope you got back to sleep after you woke up at 3:30!