Washing Dishes — “These are a few of my favorite things”

Last week, I again had the opportunity to help fill here at Family Abuse Center working in the kitchen helping our Resident Advocate out.  One of our staff had a family emergency and several of us pitched in to help.  Working in the kitchen is certainly one of the most challenging jobs we have at the shelter and perhaps is least valued.  It is a lot of like my home.  No one seems to notice when the dishes and the kitchen are clean, but leave the pans crusty and smelly in the sink — everyone notices.  When there are more than 45 women and children living in the shelter, the cooking and cleaning is a big job.  Last year, Family Abuse Center served more than 23,000 meals.  This year we will top 25,000.  That is three meals a day for each client living here.

The good news is that the kids are in school so that is fewer people at lunch time. Even so I walked into the kitchen to see  the mound of disgusting plates piled high.  Yes, we have a wonderful dishwasher, but each plate must be scrapped and rinsed.  Then it is loaded into the dishwasher.  We have procedures that the Health Department approves.

So I spent several hours just cleaning up.  The menu had been sausage and the overnight RA had baked several cakes for dinner that night.  So in addition to the utensils and the plates, there were those pots and pans. I was often interrupted by clients asking for something, which proved to be a happy distraction.

I found myself singing while I washed and I began to realize that I basically love washing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen.   My husband accuses me of being a “neat freak”, but that comment comes from someone who would actually be happy living in a college dorm.  Perhaps I do enjoy looking around the kitchen seeing everything in the right place and all the dishes stacked and sanitized.  But I get enough of that feeling at home.

That is not why I enjoy washing the dishes at the shelter.  I know I love washing the dishes because often it is the only concrete definitive thing that I can name at the end of the day that I have done for someone else.  Too often, I can’t solve the client’s custody battle with their abuser.  I can’t change the judge’s ruling.  Too many times, I can’t make the healing speed up.  I can’t make the bad memories go away for a client.  All too often, I can’t change the stress of living in close quarters in an emergency shelter.  All too often I feel overwhelmed by the grief and sorrow that we see in the faces of the women and children living at the shelter.  And I just want to do something – something helpful, tangible, and useful.

Many years ago I challenged myself in an Ala Non meeting to try to do at least five good deeds a day unnoticed by anyone.  It is easy to do things that you get rewarded or praised for.  I try to do five nice things for someone each day and if they notice that I’ve done something for them, then it doesn’t count.  I love helping someone  when they don’t even notice that I’m there.  I don’t want to do things for others just because the act itself is reward enough.  Often I don’t see the end result of the action I’ve taken.  I just hope that my deed has made a little brighter, a little easier, — for maybe just that day. For all of those reasons, I love washing the dishes at the shelter.  It is my small way of making life a little easier for the staff and the clients.  I think I’ll try my best to add washing the dishes to my “Executive Director” calendar.  I will sleep easier at night, knowing I’ve done something tangible for someone — especially if they haven’t even noticed that I helped. I’ll be happy if I can take a turn at washing the dishes and that will encourage me in the more challenging parts of my job that can’t be so easily solved and are much more difficult to define and see.


Kathy Reid, Executive Director

Family Abuse Center

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