As the doors open at 7 a.m. for the Jubilee Café in Lawrence, Kan., over 100 people are there waiting to be seated and served. Smiling waiters and waitresses stand ready to take orders and deliver morning coffee and orange juice. While a setting like this might not be so uncommon, for homeless people across the country, this is a far cry from normal.
Founder of the Jubilee Café, Joe Alford, explains that he wanted to create a different kind of soup kitchen for the homeless, "a place where they're treated with dignity and respect."
To achieve that feeling, the breakfast is served restaurant-style, which means the guests come in, sit down and then order the food they want from their table rather than going through a buffet line.
There are normal breakfast choices that you might find in any restaurant: eggs, biscuits, and gravy as well as coffee and orange juice, among others. Each table has menus on which guests mark their desired breakfast choice. The menus are collected by the servers, taken to the kitchen and then delivered to the guest. It is a breakfast that is cooked to order, with a multitude of choices, unlike most soup kitchens. If a guest does not like their meal, they can send it back, just as they would at any other café.
Most people forget that while the homeless might not have a permanent address, many do have jobs and most are treated with little or no dignity and respect. Alford elaborates, saying that "when you say good morning or hello and bring this person a cup of coffee, it may be the nicest thing that happens to them all week."
Another unique aspect of the Jubilee Café is that it is entirely run by student volunteers. It runs on Tuesdays and Fridays throughout the year and serves about 160 people per week. Students arrive at 5 a.m. to begin preparing the food, which is served at 7 a.m.
Paige Monnet, a coordinator at the café says, "I really think they enjoy talking to the volunteers and the students that they don't normally interact with." It's allows the chance to remove those preconceptions people have about the homeless, and "it's a great way for us students, us community members to give back and to serve them," explains Tiffany Nguyen, also a coordinator.
The guests appreciate the atmosphere and the chance to meet the students, exchanging stories with them while they eat. One guest, Richard Fawcett says that "it's definitely also really nice to be able to come in here and have a cup of coffee and some breakfast before we get started for our day."
Aside from the respect and dignity shown to the guests, Paige and Tiffany are also quick to point out the importance the café serves to student volunteers. "I think a lot of the biases people have about the homeless are really just broken down here."
The Jubilee Café succeeds in caring for a part of the community that is so often overlooked but it does so in a way that ensures more respect for the people who are in need of help. Watching the hustle and bustle of the café, an onlooker would easily overlook anything unusual about the guests, emphasizing the superficiality of the preconceptions created about homelessness.
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