When a homeless man starts yelling at you

I was on the train today, still thinking about my time this past Wednesday at the Bowery Mission. I’m not accustomed to getting yelled at by strangers, but this ended up happening while I was serving meals to the homeless and in-need people lining up at the Mission two days ago. All of the volunteers were lined up at the food station, manning specific dishes, utensils and cups to hand out. I was in charge of the pasta station and given strict instructions to give only two scoops of pasta to each person, regardless of whether they asked for more. The supervisor was watching closely in the beginning, whispering feedback to me about when I might have scooped too much, too little, and of course, what was just right. I had a feeling this was going to get messy at some point, but I just had to wait for it.

So it did happen. One guest passed on his portion of pasta; he didn’t even want it touching his plate. The guest after him asked him if he could take his portion, and he said yes. He asked me for a double portion, and I gently told him that he could only have one portion as that was what the rules were. He started yelling at me, telling me that the previous guest said he could have his portion, so why can’t I just do what I was told. Then, he proceeded to call me stupid, dumb, and awful until the supervisor got involved. “It’s okay,” the volunteer next to me said while smiling. “Don’t worry about it.”

I came back to the office after our volunteer service, and when the head of our office comes over to ask me how it was, I told him that I found it to be a great experience, a character-building one at that. He asked me to elaborate, so I told him this anecdote. He started laughing and said, “So, let me get this straight. You’re the awful person for spending five hours of your day doing free labor to serve meals for people you don’t even know who need food and likely won’t eat anything else that day? Sure. You must be terrible.”

I know it’s nothing personal. It certainly was a bit more drama than I originally anticipated. But I get where the guy is coming from. Like most of the people who were there to receive a free hot meal, this would likely be his only meal of the day, so he wanted to maximize what he could get. In theory, it did make sense to get the portion of the guy in front of him who passed, but I wasn’t really in a position to do that. When you have that little, you want to fight for every last bit that you can get, right?

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