I made it to the homeless shelter early, just about 5:30. We didn't start dinner service until 6, but I wanted to make sure no one gave up my spot on the serving line.
I made it past the check-in box and held the door for a guy delivering pizza. Apparently it was once again pizza night at the shelter. Most often, the residents prepare a meal for the guests, but this week it looked like a local business had arranged to deliver pizza instead.[ref]"Residents" are the men in the residential program at the shelter. They live in and maintain the building, attend job training, and work with case officers to help turn their lives around and get them back on their feet. "Guests" could be anyone; the shelter opens its doors for meals and lets just about anyone come in from the street to get a hot breakfast or dinner.[/ref]
Unfortunately, he only had 12 boxes of pizza.[ref]The boxes were numbered "1 of 12," "2 of 12," etc. There wasn't a way we could miscount.[/ref] Twelve boxes, multiplied by 10 slices per box, is only an entree for 120 guests. On average, we serve between 200-250 guests. On colder nights - or once word gets out that it's pizza night - that number crawls above 300. There was no way 120 slices of pizza was going to work out.
I raised a concern with the guys in the kitchen, and we all double-checked our count. We had 12 boxes of donated pizza - they were numbered - and no real backup plan for when we ran out of food. They scrambled and started heating up some macaroni and cheese so we could fall back to something warm when the pizza disappeared.
We opened the doors, and our guests came in excited when they saw pepperoni on the plates.
I was serving the entree - the pizza - and felt bad only giving people one slice at a time. Some of the guests were really hungry and got back in line for seconds, another reason for me to worry about our limited food supply.
I finished off box after box, and kept calling to the kitchen to get updates on the waiting mac & cheese. It wasn't looking good; the macaroni was going to work, but wasn't going to be warm.
One of the cooks fired up the warmer oven and got ready to put the rack of macaroni in ... but found instead a few more boxes of already warm pizza.
He kept bringing things out to me. We served box 12. Then box 15. Then box 20.
We kept finding more pizza in the kitchen. Every time the cook went back with an empty box, he found a full, fresh box of pepperoni pizza just out of the oven. When we were done with the night, we'd severed just north of 300 people - and had three full pizzas left over.
We started the night with a clean kitchen. We started the night with twelve numbered boxes of pizza. We started the night praying that God would provide for the guests.
We ended the night with thirty-one empty pizza boxes and three full ones. We ended the night having fed 307 guests with plenty of left-overs for all of the volunteers who wanted any. We ended the night with no explanation where the other twenty-one boxes of pizza had come from.
Like the first twelve boxes, these ones were numbered. "13 of, "14 of," etc. No one had made a second delivery. No one in the kitchen or at the front desk saw more than twelve pizzas come in. No one had any idea what had happened.
For the first time in my life, I witnessed an event that can only be called miraculous.
I'm thankful every day that miracles like this happen and that they're possible in the first place.