It is surprising to see the level of trust that the residents have with each other. Trays full of food are left alone while the eater gets up for a condiment or to refill a drink. The atmosphere is relaxed, and the residents seem to be enjoying this time of their day. Most of them bus their own trays, though volunteers roam the edge of the room looking for trays and utensils left behind. They are taken to the kitchen, where two men are busy rinsing and sterilizing them.
At 6:00, diners are still trickling in. The later crowd includes some young teenagers who are annoying their parents, ignoring loud warnings to stop their horseplay. No one seems to be in a hurry, except the kitchen staff. A lone resident worker stands facing the wall at the far counter, enjoying his dinner. He eats slowly, breathing in relaxation, just a few steps away from the frenzy.
Marie French and Eric Woodside, two older-than-teenage volunteers, work at a software marketing company in Sorrento Valley and are volunteers with Claritas. They are frequent volunteers at St. Vincent's.
Woodside: "This brings you back to reality."
French: "It makes me grateful for what I have."
By 6:30, the line is secured and the serving stops. As the kitchen is cleaned, workers head into the dining room, talking, laughing, wiping, sweeping, and mopping around the few stragglers left. At 7:00 the hall is cleared of diners and the final cleanup is in place. Soon everyone is gone, but laughter still lingers in the kitchen.