It’s called The Open Door, so come on in
Lately I’ve been hanging out at The Open Door in Frog Level and I have to admit, it’s my new favorite joint in town. After my mom passed, I began to feel overstimulated in traditional settings like ballgames, street festivals, and even crowded restaurants. All the noise, clanging, and happy sounds were so discordant with my melancholy; I would leave feeling exhausted and agitated.
It’s getting better, but I have to admit I’m still craving alone time, small settings, or crowds where I am completely anonymous. Just another strange thing about grief, I guess.
I’ve wanted to volunteer at The Open Door for years but never have. Early last month, something kept calling me there and so since then, I’ve volunteered and stopped by a number of times. My sister, mom, and I watched a million Hallmark Christmas movies about a lonely girl working in a soup kitchen around the holidays who then falls in love with a handsome volunteer or passerby.
I think these cheesy movies glamorized soup kitchens in my mind, so I’m not sure what I expected the first time I visited The Open Door, but I realized within seconds the reality of a soup kitchen is much different than that of a Hollywood movie.
During my first visit, I worked with a group of ladies from Long’s Chapel to prepare the food. These ladies are all around my mom’s age, so it was very enjoyable to be around them. There’s something similar about all Southern ladies of that generation. They have an air of class and dignity about them, and they float around the kitchen with a grace and ease I can only aspire to.
We got there around 8:30 a.m. and worked nonstop to prepare the meal. This was my first surprise. I assumed the cooks dumped cans in pots and maybe baked a chicken, but wow, how wrong I was.
To begin with, the group volunteering comes in each morning not even knowing what they are preparing. They look around the kitchen and assess what’s available and then develop a plan.
As one of the ladies said, “It’s amazing how God always provides. We always figure out something.”
In Western North Carolina, there’s constant talk about farm-to-table restaurants, but I’ve never heard much discussion about farm-to-table soup kitchens. It sounds like an oxymoron, but boxes of fresh, local produce are routinely being delivered to The Open Door, as are baked goods and items from local bakeries; therefore, much of the food served is extraordinarily fresh and healthy.
Crates of garden-fresh lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, and other vegetables take up a significant portion of the kitchen floor. During my first experience volunteering, a few of the ladies made a big pasta salad from scratch using pasta, a variety of vegetables, and their own creative marinade.
We also had fresh turkey and other high-quality lunch meat along with deli cheese and baked breads. We cut fresh tomatoes and lettuce to serve with the sandwiches. For lunch, guests enjoyed a deli sandwich, pasta salad, and baked beans. When we sat down and ate, I commented that my sandwich and side dishes tasted as fresh as those in my favorite restaurants.
I volunteered with the same group during my second visit. That day, there was some chicken and other vegetables, so these talented women made from-scratch chicken pot-pie with a homemade crust. I’m here to tell you, the food at The Open Door can be very scrumptious.
This made me realize that even though the guests at The Open Door have troubled lives, some completely immersed in poverty or lost to addiction, they still need healthy food and crave tasty dishes. It makes me happy to know our community comes together in a number of ways to ensure this happens.
I also noticed that a couple of folks from Frog Level businesses stop in for lunch. One gentleman from Giles Chemical said he loves the food at The Open Door. He can walk over, grab some great food, and hang out with Open Door guests. A little birdie told me that he gives a donation each month in appreciation for the food.
It made me wonder why other people don’t do the same. The guests at The Open Door could certainly benefit from observing active, productive members of our community, and who doesn’t want an eclectic mix at the table?
I’ve walked into Panacea Coffee and Frog Level Brewing hundreds of times during my time in Waynesville without a second thought to The Open Door. I find it interesting that mere walls separate those who can afford cappuccinos and craft beer from those who are thankful for nickels and dimes found among the railroad tracks.
I know the crew at The Open Door would welcome anyone who wanted to stop by to eat or just hang out for a while. If for some reason you can’t, you can support this special place in other ways. They’re always thankful for canned goods and foods that guests can eat when they have nothing else and no access to electricity. Some of these foods include canned meats, beans, peanut butter, crackers, and granola bars.
There’s also a benefit concert by the award-winning band Mountain Faith. In fact, they recently won the ‘Emerging Artist of the Year’ award at the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) awards. The concert is Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. at Haywood Community College. Tickets are very inexpensive and all proceeds go to The Open Door.
I’ve developed relationships with several guests at The Open Door, including a five-month old baby and her great-grandmother, and if I can attend a fun concert to help individuals like this, I’m all in.
Nothing is as it seems in the movies. With every passing year of life, I learn this more and more. But sometimes things are more beautiful here in the real world. They may be utterly raw and heartbreaking and possibly never lead to a happy-ever-after, but if there’s love and hope and sincerity involved, a special kind of beautiful evolves that no movie script could ever mimic.