If your family’s New Year’s resolution went something like: "This year we resolve to spend more time together, have fun helping others, learn insane new cooking techniques, dramatically improve our first aid skills, develop a keen sense of modern street fashion, and sing joyously and loudly all while becoming breathtakingly amazing sandwich ninjas," then we have a family activity for you.
It’s called The WORKship Project and every Sunday morning from 9:00 am until 11:30 am, this group of volunteers—mostly families—feeds between 100 to 300 homeless Tucsonans at the Z Mansion downtown. In addition to serving Sunday brunch, WORKship volunteers also simultaneously staff a clothing bank, help run an extensive first-aid station, entertain their guests, and whip up over 150 lunch bags for those in need.
"I’ve been helping out since I was just a kid," said eight-year-old Michael Hill proudly, while at a recent WORKship brunch. "My favorite part is being a volunteer with the sandwich crew. We have to make over a hundred sack lunches in less than an hour so things get pretty crazy."
Michael, volunteers every Sunday with his entire family. If your family would like to get involved, here are some areas where The WORKship Project could really use your help:
The first thing you notice when you enter the large, professional kitchen behind the Z Mansion is its cleanliness and attention to food quality and food safety. There are two primary reasons for this, according to longtime WORKship volunteer Laura Coleman. "First, we really care about the food we serve so, as much as possible, the raw ingredients are fresh, organic, and sourced locally," revealed Laura as she pulled a tray of freshly-baked homemade biscuits out of the oven. "Second, many of the core kitchen volunteers here have extensive experience in professional kitchens so everything has to run just so."
One of those regular volunteers is the head chef at one of the nation’s top resorts located here in Tucson. Another is a food preparation and food safety instructor for a local non-profit agency. And yet another is a longtime member of the Community Supported Agriculture movement here in town. All of this experience comes in handy because of the way The WORKship Project runs. As Emmeline Hill, one of the founding members of the group explains, "There is no money involved in this project. We take no cash donations of any kind. The raw ingredients are all brought in each week by individual families. Because of this, we never know at 9:00 am on Sunday, what we are going to serve at 10:45. It’s like Iron Chef only a lot more important, and a lot more fun."
"It is amazing how this really works," said Laura. "We’ll be there whipping up eggs and thinking, ‘Boy, some fresh green chiles would be perfect right now’ and then, bang, a volunteer walks in carrying a bag of freshly-picked chiles. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. People are just amazing if you just let them be free to help others."
“In addition to serving Sunday brunch, WORKship volunteers also simultaneously staff a clothing bank, help run an extensive first-aid station, entertain their guests, and whip up over 150 lunch bags for those in need.”
Gloves? Check! Hair covering? Check! Uninhibited spirit of adventure? Double check! With its wild and crazy atmosphere, the sandwich station is the perfect spot for parents with their younger children. "I can’t wait for our little Charlie to be able to stuff his first lunch sack," said Mark Arnold, the energetic heart and soul of the WORKship crew. "Of course, Charlie’s just a few months old but he’s already a regular volunteer!"
The first-aid station at The WORKship Project is just that, a place where people on the streets can have their minor wounds and injuries treated for free. As WORKship volunteer Daniel Anders, an EMT, explained as he took a patient’s blood pressure, "We are not a clinic, but we work very closely with the wonderful people who staff the Van of Hope clinic from El Rio. Our job is to take care of what we can and then to refer the rest to appropriate treatment. Saying that, however, doesn’t mean that things here are boring." For example, on a recent Sunday, The WORKship first-aid station:
The volunteer first-aid team did all this, in addition to taking a multitude of blood pressures, temperatures, and patient histories. "Sometimes we see a lot and sometimes we just get to talk to folks about how to stay healthy," said Dr. Henry Bianchi, M.D. a local pediatrician and frequent WORKship volunteer. "We call ourselves the Band-aid patrol and we invite anyone who wants to help out to join us."
But what if you don’t have any medical experience? Dr. Bianchi explained that you should still feel free to come by and help. "There are always experienced hands to do the heavy lifting and to explain things," he said. "In fact, it’s a great way for students who are interested in medicine to get first-hand exposure to what it’s really like out there."
"Anybody seen a pair of size 14 men’s shoes?" asked Marian Lambert as she acted as a personal shopper for a homeless man at the WORKship clothing bank in the carriage house at the Z Mansion. The other volunteers shook their heads so Marian forged on smiling broadly as she assisted her client choose a selection of donated shirts, pants and outerwear. Just as Marian finished, another volunteer came into the carriage house and asked, "Someone just donated these men’s shoes. They’re size 14. Anyone need them?" Marian smiled and pointed to her client.
"It is just so cool," revealed Marian after the day’s frenetic activity, "it’s just so cool how things always seem to come together. I can’t think of a more amazing place to spend my Sunday mornings."
The WORKship Project is held every Sunday morning of the year, starting at 9:00 am and ending at 11:30 am at the Z Mansion at 288 North Church Avenue, Tucson, Arizona 85701. Volunteers of all ages—including families—need not call ahead, but are invited to come down to help out any Sunday throughout the year.
About the Author:
Brother Thad is one of the founding members of The WORKship Project, which began in July of 2000 as an outreach program of the United Methodist Church. Last year in Tucson, the now independent WORKship Project served over 16,000 meals to the homeless without raising a single penny in donations. All of the food and labor provided at WORKship is donated directly by its 100 percent volunteer membership.
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The photos are all by Amy Arnold!
Space made available by Z-Mansion Weddings