Diana Brauer is food service director at The Salvation Army. She has been working there since September.
I visited with her while she was preparing lunch about 10:30 a.m. on Monday, July 19. On the menu: hamburgers, fries and salad.
Volunteer Ken Karr, a retired Lawrence resident, also was in the kitchen. He helps her twice a week — usually Mondays and Fridays. He volunteers about 14 hours a week.
“He’s a godsend,” she said.
Ideally, she would like to have three volunteers to help prepare and cleanup after meals, but most days she’s lucky to have one.
The Salvation Army provides lunch three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
As she prepared the salad, she said it’s a favorite among the homeless.
“When I started making fresh salads, they really liked that. So, I do as much fresh salad as I can, but I am kind of limited because I can’t spend a whole bunch of money at the store,” she said.
Brauer said she tries to add flavor to food, especially government commodities. She added tomato sauce, green onions and spices to the meat for hamburgers.
She really likes donations of fresh produce and spices. (Hint. hint.)
“The more spices I get, the better I can make it taste,” she said.
Other favorites include: homemade sloppy joes and tacos.
“My job is to make them feel good about who they are and where they are, and to let them know the person in the kitchen really cares about them. That’s what The Salvation Army is about.”
She has one important rule: No foul language. She will give a warning, and then the person is asked to leave.
“I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable while they are here. I want them to have a nice, pleasurable meal, and stress-free,” Brauer said.
During lunch, Brauer takes time to pet Gabbie, a dog that belongs to Dwight Sexton, 46. Gabbie helps warn Sexton when he is going to have a seizure.
Sexton, who has been homeless for about one year, volunteers at The Salvation Army to get out of the heat. He does a variety of chores, such as cleaning the dining area and unloading donations of food.
He said he has been diagnosed with psychotic paranoia, post-traumatic syndrome, bipolar disorder, and social anxiety at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.
While eating, he was discussing the frustrations of living on the streets with friend, Ron Kerr, 46, who also is homeless.
“It sucks. Don’t do it,” they said, of being homeless.
Kerr stays at the Lawrence Community Shelter, where Sexton has been banned. Sexton estimated he walked about seven miles per day.
He is working on getting disability benefits. He said he was denied in June because the government couldn’t reach him.
Kerr said he works when he can, but hasn’t been able to afford a place to call his own.
Brauer said she has learned from those she serves. For example, she appreciates things like soap and shampoo — items that many of them can’t afford.
“My heart goes out to so many of them,” she said. “Something has happened in their life for them to experience homelessness.”
On this day, she served 84 people.