The place itself is quite a bit nicer than I expected. The usual impression from word of mouth is that it's a homeless shelter, and that's partly true, but the place thinks of itself more as a support center, providing women in need with necessary services. The shelter part is actually fairly modest -- a small number of medium-term beds. Their real pride and joy is clearly the classrooms: they recently bought the house next door, and renovated it to hold a large number of classrooms where they teach classes to help the women they serve to help themselves. And then, of course, there's the kitchen.
They provide hot lunches and dinners to all the women who come in, but the effect is deliberately *not* a stereotypical soup kitchen. The statement that they make (repeatedly) is that you should treat the ladies as you'd want your own mother to be treated -- with respect, and in a way that helps them keep their dignity. That tends to be self-reinforcing, with the result that the whole thing is very *polite*, making it much more pleasant for both the patrons and volunteers. The atmosphere is deliberately non-institutional: comfortable, well-lit, cafeteria style but not sterile.
So I spent the first hour or so on prep -- primarily on mixing the chicken and pesto for lunch. Then I ran one of the initial lines: bread and soup basically as requested. (The rule was that you'd serve so much automatically, but provide as much as requested if she asked.) Then on to plate-prep for the main lunch, which was served at table -- we had an assembly line making up plates of chicken-pesto burritos, a fairly ornate corn/barley salad, asparagus and an apple, and then several people taking those around to tables with full service. And then cleanup, starting quietly in the background as things begin to empty, and getting thorough once the dining room closes at 1pm, proceeding gradually enough that we were done by 1:10pm.
The politeness aside, they run a nicely tight ship: the schedule of what goes out when is firm, which I suspect plays into the dignity point -- they treat the women like grown-ups, and insist that they behave as such. And the volunteers are instructed on proper food safety from the get-go, with all the right nuances. (Including the point of, "We have lots of gloves. Do not attempt to save us gloves. When in doubt, put on new gloves.") The result is that it's a pretty satisfying place to work, with no surprises or panic. (Andy, who runs the show, reminds me a lot of a good SCA kitchener -- helping out as he has time, but always looking around for crises to deal with, understanding that his job is mainly to provide direction.)
All in all, a lot of hard work -- running pretty much flat-out for three hours -- but a good time. They do a nice job of making the volunteers feel useful, especially if you're the sort to go looking for ways to help out. Recommended as a way to spend some time, if you're looking for a opportunity to be societally useful...