I’ll never forget an exchange I had many years ago with a Home Depot employee who helped me find some heavy copper wire for a sculpture I was making. After coiling up the wire and handing it to me I looked at him and said, “You are the man!” He smiled and said, “Nah, I’m not THE man I’m just one of ’em.” One of the many who go about their work with pride and with kindness and humility without behaving like James or John, the sons of Zebedee in Mark’s Gospel, who want so very much to be recognized: “Grant, Jesus, that we may sit, one on your right and one on your left… in your glory!”
On Friday night I spent about two and a half hours with a man I now call Saint Corey. St. Corey Upchurch.
The winter storm was looming and I had seen and heard DC Mayor Muriel Bowser on television telling residents to stay at home and off the streets so I wasn’t sure we’d be going out. But the St. Alban’s Grate Patrol volunteers (more of ’em!), as they do so faithfully every week, had already prepared dinner and sandwiches earlier that day. I called Corey at about 5:30 pm on Friday and asked if we’d be heading out: “Yes, I’ll be there.”
We left the church around 6:30 and drove through the snowy DC streets to the usual Grate Patrol stops. We both hoped that we wouldn’t find anyone but figured that there would be those who would decide to brave the storm rather than find shelter. At the first stop two men approached the van and after giving them food and hot chocolate Corey reminded one of them to get the ice out of his beard so that his face wouldn’t freeze.
We fed a total of 13 men and one woman Friday night, no where near the number of people served on a typical Grate Patrol, and Corey told me that if we’d have only fed one we’d have made a difference in the world. As we drove from stop to stop Corey would pull up and honk the horn three times, and we’d wait. The city was quiet. Hooray. So I used that time to learn a little about Corey.
Corey Upchurch has three kids. He drives a school bus during the day and has been driving the Grate Patrol van for about eight years now. There’s two Grate Patrol drivers and they alternate weeks, each driving seven consecutive nights followed by seven nights off. Seven on and seven off, for eight years now… I think that means Corey has made the Grate Patrol trip and fed hundreds of men and women 1,456 times.
At one stop on Friday a gentlemen was asking about a shelter. Corey told him the shelter he was looking for was too far. We invited him into the Grate Patrol van to warm up while Corey dialed 311 on his cell phone so that he could find someplace the man could walk to. He put the phone on speaker and we sat on hold for what seemed like an eternity. The man grew impatient and decided to leave so Corey called another agency and described the man and the direction he was walking so that they could send someone to pick him up.
At the last stop of the night a man asked Corey if he’d be back out on Saturday night. Corey looked at him and said, “If this van will move through whatever snow is on the ground… I will be here…”
When Corey dropped me off at the church we transferred a hundred or so sandwiches into bags so that he could drop them off, with the casseroles we didn’t give out, at a shelter. I didn’t tell him that I thought he was the man, but If I had he’d probably have said, “Nah, I’m not THE man I’m just one of ’em.”
The Grate Patrol is a service provided by the Salvation Army and supported, for many years now, by St. Alban’s and many other churches. If you are a friend of St. Alban’s and would like to learn more, visit our website: http://stalbansdc.org/community/classes-forums/additional-resources/for-the-hungry/