Each day as 11 a.m nears, guests begin lining up in the courtyard of The Master’s Table Soup Kitchen in downtown Augusta, Ga. Over the course of an hour, staff and volunteers will serve a hot lunch to about 325 hungry people. For some, it will be the only meal of the day.
During the work week, The Master’s Table’s staff of four relies on longtime volunteers and groups of cadets from Fort Gordon’s Youth Challenge Academy to plate food, wash dishes and greet guests with a smile.
For the Youth Challenge cadets like Emaiceo Lindsey, a randomly assigned work detail can become an eye-opening volunteer experience.
“The people who come here – you can tell they are hungry,” the 18-year-old from Atlanta says.
Youth Challenge Academy provides at-risk youth with a 5 ½ month educational experience emphasizing leadership skills, academic excellence and community service. Male and female students ages 16-19 live in barracks on Fort Gordon where part of each day is spent on a work detail – like volunteering at The Master’s Table.
“I was put on detail here and I loved it,” Lindsey says. “I love coming.”
For Lindsey, the experience is more than just handing a guest a meal tray or mopping up after the doors close, it’s helped him understand the situation facing the 1 in 4 people in Augusta-Richmond County who struggle with hunger.
“Imagine if you are waiting an extra hour for lunch, but then you can’t buy lunch because you can’t afford it,” Lindsey says. “That’s what they are going through.”
The cadets arrive around 8:30 a.m., long before guests arrive. Before lunch service starts, they might have the opportunity to cook and prepare food, wrap silverware, collect produce and herbs from the garden, pull weeds or clean up the courtyard. But Lindsey’s favorite part of the service day happens in the dining room.
“I like to see the smiles on their faces when they get the food,” he says. “It gives them a good feeling.”
Ultimately, the partnership between Golden Harvest and Youth Challenge Academy gives area youth the chance to see the power of volunteering and community service.
“You help a lot of people, I really feel like I’m making a difference,” Lindsey observes. “Golden Harvest is awesome and you guys are really making a difference.”