Donna Mae Sits Down to Lunch
A Soup Kitchen on Planet Earth. February 4 2014
DONNA MAE does not have to wait in the long hungry line at the glass doors of the dining room. Whenever she appears in the crowd, holding onto the bar of her buggy, she is allowed to push it through to the front of the line. Her buggy is the kind with a seat, and when Donna Mae arrives at the glass doors, she sits down in this seat of hers to wait. She is the first to enter when the security man unlocks the doors, which happens each day at exactly 11:30. She stands up from her seat and takes the bars of her buggy again to make her way inside.
The volunteers at this serving line in Las Cruces, New Mexico, are well acquainted with Donna Mae and her buggy. They are more than familiar with her squat pudgy body, her large flat face. They place her tray on the serving counter for her and pay studied attention to her preferences among the foods. Today there is potato casserole, chicken wings, meat and vegetable soup, salad, many kinds of breads and deserts.
Donna Mae cannot push her buggy and also carry her tray, so someone stands by to convey it to the table she likes. It is a small table at the very back of the long hall. At this table one of the chairs can be moved to the side, and Donna Mae can roll her buggy into the empty space. When the buggy is safely in, Donna Mae holds onto the table instead of the buggy and sits down in her dining chair. Her tray holds a heap of food, and Donna Mae eats well and quite deliberately. From time to time a volunteer appears to monitor her progress and to refill her coffee from a tall black dispenser nearby.
Donna Mae is 84 years old. She receives $510 Social Security and lives alone in an apartment. In this apartment is a window with no pane — it has been covered over in plastic against the chill of the desert nights.
Donna Mae likes to tell people that she can still drive and that each day she drives her truck to the soup kitchen. She knows how to push her buggy to the truck, lift herself inside with the bar overhead, then fold her buggy in after her.
She has been homeless seven times, says Donna Mae, and on some of those occasions has slept in her truck. Other times she has stayed at the Gospel Rescue Mission across the road from the soup kitchen at the Community of Hope.
One of the volunteers who assists her in the soup kitchen is myself, Martha Stephens. I like to speak with Donna Mae about her life. I think of her often, and if she is not averse to such a thing, I would like to go home with her in her truck one day and learn more about the way she is living, though I know I will never fully understand what it is like to be homeless.
Sometimes I think of Donna Mae when I reflect on the grandmas of Baghdad, the poor ones of Fallujah, for instance, who make shift in ways we cannot even imagine to live amidst the deprivations of war. ##