It’s a little surprising that two times in a row we’ve found service projects simply by wandering into a restaurant and enjoying a nice lunch. Or perhaps it’s not that surprising…our family does eat a lot.
The Meeting Place is a cafe located in the San Blas Plaza of Cusco. It serves great breakfasts, lunch specials, organic coffee, a wide selection of teas and the most amazing milkshakes you’ve ever laid eyes on. Customers enjoy a cool atmosphere and free wifi. It’s kind of your typical hip cafe where people eat, drink, be merry and check their email.
The only difference is that everyone working at The Meeting Place is a volunteer and 100% of the restaurant’s profits go to local charitable programs. In this way, it is definitely not your typical cafe. It’s a place where a person can feel good about splurging on a massive brownie dripping with chocolate sauce. After all, the customer is eating it for charity. The customer is so selfless and giving that she’s willing to pour sugar and saturated fats into her body just so she can make sure some more money goes to a worthy charitable cause. Er…not that I would know anything about this type of twisted philanthropic logic…
After our family’s lunch I spoke with Aracelly Hobbie, the owner of The Meeting Place, and set up a day for Emily and I to come back and serve with the other volunteers. It was a great experience for both of us, and in talking with Aracelly and her husband, Steve, I learned about some other ways we can help support local programs after we leave Peru. I’ll let Emily tell you about the experience in her own words.
Volunteering At The Meeting Place
by Emily Carisch
Close your eyes and imagine you’re in Cusco, Peru. It’s a warm, sunny day and you’re behind the counter of a cafe laughing as Steve tells you jokes while teaching you how to make a latte. The other two volunteers bustle around, making mouthwatering milkshakes and taking food orders to the kitchen. Between serving food and sampling extremely healthy non-milkshake-like-beverages, the air is pretty joyous. That is what it feels like to volunteer at the The Meeting Place. Everyone is friendly (and speaks English)! It doesn’t matter if you mess up because it was a mistake and you can always try again.
The Meeting Place supports different organizations in the Cusco community to help locals. I was interested in a specific orphanage the cafe was supporting. It’s an orphanage for both the young and the elderly who have mental and/or physical disabilities. Before we started our shift, Mama and Aracelly were talking about the different projects the cafe works on. I sat listening and became intrigued when Arecelly mentioned a particular twelve-year-old girl who needs help. Arecelly said the girl is in a wheelchair fit for a seven-year-old. Her disability makes it difficult for her to support the weight of her head, and the chair doesn’t have sufficient head support. Since she’s still growing this is and will continue to be a major problem for her. The wheels in my mind immediately started turning, already thinking up ways I could help this girl.
These were the things going through my head as I washed dishes, took orders, and learned how to make lattes, cappuccinos and juices. Rushing around a restaurant, carrying heavy plates and spending most of your day behind a cramped counter may not sound like fun, but it is when music is blasting and your new friends are laughing at your side. When I get older, I want to be like Andrea, another volunteer we worked with. Andrea is in transition from high school to college and she’s spending the summer in Cusco to learn about the culture by working at another cafe and volunteering. We met some new people, learned some knew things and had an experience that will never be forgotten. The Meeting Place.
The Meeting Place is doing great things, serving friendship and food on a platter. It gives to the community with every hamburger and delightfully delicious milkshake it sells.