After spending the first hours of my day with the Morning Sandwich Ministry in downtown Atlanta, I headed over to Cafe 458 for my second volunteer adventure of the day.
Cafe 458 has a simple mission: they want to provide the restaurant experience to those completing life stabilization programs with the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency (ACSS). These guests called VIPs – Visionary Innovative Partners (what a great term!) The VIPs are asked to arrive promptly and upon arrival, they’re seated and given the opportunity to order from the daily menu, which is posted on the chalkboard.
When I arrived I was greeted by Volunteer Services Manager Alison Smith. As she started to explain the system, I thought it would be simple. I’ve served many meals in soup kitchen as homeless shelters. I mistakenly thought that this would be a similar approach, but then she said “Your section includes tables 5-9 over there.” I gave her blank stare.
I’ve never waited tables before and this was definitely a new experience for me. Luckily, they deal with volunteers like me all the time and the tables were numbered (thank goodness!)
Everything about the experience is designed to make the guests feel as if they’re eating lunch in a casual restaurant.
As the VIPs filed in, I tried to keep up and fill drinks, take orders, and deliver food. It was a little hectic, but I really liked that I had the chance to talk with everyone even if it was only for a few minutes. I noticed when talking orders that people made an effort to use what I call “restaurant manners.” I heard a lot of “yes, I’d like to have the…” as opposed to “gimme some chicken.” I believe that this experience gives the guests the sense that they are valued and worthy of positive experiences. It provides an opportunity to visualize what they’re aiming for – a life of self sufficiency where they are able to lead a full life and make their own choices.
Alison was great – she was very supportive of the blog idea and even though the cafe was full and busy, she made sure I had some extra time to take with the guests and the volunteers during my shift. Best of all, she did a little extra leg work and found out which VIPs would be open to having their pictures taken. Several of them agreed.
You may have noticed that the chalkboard listed “cake” as the dessert. What you didn’t see was the huge tray with 4 different types of cake. Alison asked to me show the tray to each table so the guests could select dessert. What she probably didn’t know is that I’m incredibly clumsy and was wondering whether my blog post would end with someone covered in caramel cake. Thankfully my balance prevailed and everyone got dessert (on their plates rather than on their person).
The Cafe runs with the help of numerous volunteers. They do everything from cook the food to waiting the tables and cleaning the kitchen. Adam is in AmeriCorps and is loving his experience. John has been volunteering for 17 years!
To top it all off, the Cafe is open as Cafe 458 Brunch starting in March! On Sundays for brunch, you can come experience Cafe 458 while it’s open to the public. The proceeds (including tips) go to sustain the program. So whether you want to volunteer your time, your money, or just your stomach, there’s a way for you to support Cafe 458!
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