The third Sunday of every month, a St. Luke’s Cathedral team prepares lunch at the Preble Street soup kitchen, where the doors are open, welcoming any and all who are in need. Over the years there have been thousands.

Volunteers start arriving at 9:30 and each of them dons a different hat, becoming cooks, biscuit bakers, salad makers, dish and pot and pan washers and cleaner uppers.

Our friendly group created a well-received meal from scratch that day: shepherd’s pie with real mashed potatoes, tossed salad, biscuits right out of the oven and, donated by local businesses, pastries and fruit.

There is always a vegetarian dish available and always plenty of hot coffee, hot or iced tea and milk. Doors open at and lunch starts exactly at 11:30. Everything must be ready.

This particular December Sunday was frigid, with spitting wet snow. The aroma of hot food cooking drifted from the ovens through the kitchen windows and out to the sidewalks, where a line of hungry people hugged the side of the building to try to shelter themselves.

The appointed hour arrived. The doors opened. Soup’s on. Eager but controlled, the people in line, as varied as flakes of snow, moved into the warmth of the dining hall, where the tables sported holiday decorations.

Four of us ladies, wearing Santa hats, waited behind the stainless-steel counter, ready to serve lunch, cafeteria-style. There was a dessert lady, a salad lady and a shepherd’s pie lady; I was the biscuit lady.

As the line progressed and trays filled with hot food, our shivering clients began to relax a little and smiles began to appear. They became more chatty and generous with “thank yous” and “Ho, ho, hos.”

A tall and thin young man, wearing a soaked jacket over a Patriots sweatshirt, his dark hair plastered to his forehead under a soaked Red Sox cap, stood in front of me.

“How about a biscuit?” I asked, adding “or two, they’re right out of the oven and still warm.”

He stood looking at them like it was a difficult decision.

There were no children there that Sunday, but as the young man took the biscuits I handed to him, I saw a boy now grown into manhood, an adult boy struggling.

A “thank you,” spoken softly.

Then he reached across the counter with something in his hand, and a shy smile flickered.

“This is for you.”

So surprised I could only croak, “Thank you,” and held my hand out. He dropped a small object into it. When I looked back, he had become lost in the crowd.

In the quiet after lunch, I stepped aside, reached into my pocket and found the young man’s gift: a tiny lapel pin, a tiny russet potato with MAINE stamped down its length.

It was all he had. It was all he had to give.

– Special to the Telegram