A Life-Changing Experience

A Life-Changing Experience

From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul

A Life-Changing Experience

I have learned to use the word impossible with the greatest caution.

Wernher von Braun

A couple of years ago, I went through an experience that impacted my belief system to such an extent that it forever altered the way I view the world. At the time, I was involved in a human potential organization called LifeSpring. Fifty other individuals and I were going through a three-month training named The Leadership Program. My epiphany began at one of our weekly meetings when the individuals running the program came to us with a challenge. They said they wanted us to feed breakfast to 1,000 homeless people in downtown Los Angeles. Furthermore, we were also to acquire clothing that we were to give away. And most important of all, we were not to spend a single dime of our own money.

Now, since none of us were in the catering business or had ever come close to doing anything like this, my first reaction was, “Jeeze, this is going to really be a stretch to pull off.” However, then they added, “By the way, we want you guys to do all of this on Saturday morning.” They were telling us this on Thursday night, so I quickly upgraded my prognosis to IMPOSSIBLE! I don’t think I was alone.

Looking around the room, I saw 50 faces that were blanker than a freshly washed chalkboard. The fact was, none of us had a single clue as to how to even begin to pull something like this off. It was at this point that something amazing happened. Since none of us wanted to admit that we couldn’t handle their challenge, we all said, with perfectly straight faces, “Okay. Yeah, sure we can do this, no problem.”

Then one person said, “Okay, we need to break up into teams. We need one team to get the food and another to work on getting equipment to cook it with.” Then somebody else said, “I have a truck; we could use it to pick up the equipment.”

“Great!” we all chirped.

Then somebody else piped up with, “We need a team to be in charge of getting the entertainment and the donated clothing together.” Before I knew it, I was in charge of the communication team.

By 2:00 A.M., we had made a list of every task we could think of that needed to be done, delegated it to the appropriate team, and then headed off for home to try to get some sleep. I remember thinking as I laid my head down on my pillow, “My God, I have no idea how we’re going to do this, not even a clue . . . but we’re going to give it our best shot!”

At 6:00 A.M. my alarm went
off, and a few minutes later my two teammates showed up. The three of us, along with the rest of the team, had exactly 24 hours to see if we could turn the feeding of 1,000 homeless people into a reality.

We pulled out the phone book and began calling everybody on our list who we thought could help us. My first call was to Von’s corporate headquarters. After explaining what we were doing, I was told that we had to submit our request for food in writing and that it would take two weeks for it to be processed. I patiently explained that we didn’t have two weeks and that we needed the food that same day, preferably before nightfall. The regional manager said she would get back to me within an hour.

I called Western Bagel, pleaded my case, and to my delight, the owner said, “Okay.” Suddenly, we had ourselves 1,200 bagels! Next, while I was on the phone with Zacky Farms trying to get us some chicken and some more eggs, my “call waiting” went off. It was one of the guys calling to say that he had stopped by Hansen’s Juices and they had a truckload of fresh squeezed carrot, watermelon and other assorted juices they would be willing to donate—a definite home run that brought high-fives all around.

The Von’s regional manager called back and said she had procured all kinds of food for us, including 600 loaves of bread! Ten minutes later someone else called to tell me they had arranged for 500 burritos to be donated. In fact, it seemed like every 10 minutes someone from the team was calling up, telling me that they got someone to donate X amount of something! “Wow,” I thought. “Could we really be pulling it off?”

Finally, at midnight, after 18 straight hours of work, I found myself at a Winchell’s Donuts picking up 800 donuts and carefully packing them in one side of my hatchback, so I’d have room for the 1,200 bagels I was scheduled to pick up at 5:00 A.M.

After a few hours of much needed rest, I hopped into my car, whipped by Western Bagel and picked up the bagels (my car now smelled like a bakery), and headed for downtown Los Angeles. It was Saturday morning and I was pumped up. As I pulled into the parking lot at around 5:45 A.M., I could see team members setting up large industrial barbecues, inflating helium balloons and positioning the Porta-Potties. (We thought of everything.)

I quickly hopped out of my car and began unloading the bags of bagels and boxes of donuts. By 7:00 A.M., a line had started to form outside the parking lot gate. As word began to spread throughout the poverty-stricken neighborhood about our hot breakfast program, the line began to grow until it extended down the street and around an entire city block.

By 7:45 A.M., men, women and even small children were beginning to come through the food lines, their plates piled high with hot barbecued chicken, scrambled eggs, burritos, bagels, donuts and many other goodies. Behind them were the many neatly folded piles of clothing that by day’s end would be all snapped up. As the loud speakers from the DJ booth blasted out the stirring words of We Are the World, I looked over the sea of contented faces of all colors and ages, happily devouring their plates of food. By the time we ran out of food at 11:00 A.M., we had fed a total of 1,140 homeless people.

Afterwards, my teammates and the homeless people were dancing to the music in a joyous celebration that just seemed to happen naturally. During the dancing, two homeless men came up to me and said the breakfast was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for them, and that it was the first time they had ever attended a meal program where a fight had not broken out. As he squeezed my hand, I felt a lump in my throat. We had done it. We had fed over 1,000 homeless people with less than 48 hours notice. It was a personal experience that made a deep impression on me. Now when people tell me that they would like to do something but think it would be impossible, I think to myself, “Yeah, I know what you mean. I used to think that way myself . . .”

Michael Jeffreys

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