Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Nourishment for the Homeless

Fr. Richard Dellos put fingers to mouth and blew a loud, piercing whistle.

He did it again and again, each time to show his appreciation for the singers and dancers at the 40th anniversary of his ordination Sunday.

It wasn’t a small party. He had invited the entire parish to a barbecue, and well over 400 people showed up, spilling over the campus, jamming the huge tent housing dining tables and performers, and filling the parish center, also decked out with tables for eating. Some brought gifts and momentoes, including State Sen. Joe Griffo, who presented a proclamation from the New York State Senate recognizing the priest’s service and ministry to the community. A big part of that ministry is serving the poor and those in need.

It started to rain, but the showers didn’t dampen the fest, as long lines of parishioners filled their plates with sausage, pork, beef, chicken and fixings.

A number of our regular soup kitchen guests were enjoying the festivities, too. Among them was Wayne, who had heaped several layers of meat and bread on his plate. He let out his easy, ebullient laugh, even though he would be bracing himself for another cold, damp night on the streets.

Wayne, who is legally blind and was burned out of his home weeks earlier, mentioned that his plans for a new apartment fell through, and that he was now spending his nights under a viaduct.

At the party he was nursing a sore thumb, and when he came into the soup kitchen Wednesday, it was sporting a splint. It had turned out to be broken, and had to be reset at St. Elizabeth Medical Center.

“I was sleeping in a tree, and I fell,” he explained.

“A tree is okay (for sleeping) if you don’t move,” he laughed. “Now I’m sticking to the viaduct.”

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Spring Shines Through

Our blind guest, Wayne, was sitting outside, basking in the spring sunshine a half-hour before the soup kitchen doors were to open Wednesday, while inside Deacon Gil Nadeau and daytime volunteer supervisor Joanne Lockwood led a group of eight volunteers in prayer.

Mother Teresa, Joanne told the group, “spent time in daily prayer and reflection before going out” to serve people in Calcutta. In the same way, she described their coming together in prayer and reflection as a “daily self-offering,” putting them in a frame of mind to better serve people coming to Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen.

“I believe the Holy Spirit is working in us, enabling us to do what we do. I also pray that the Holy Spirit inspire the hearts of many who cannot serve to donate money and food.”

Added Deacon Gil: “In addition to money and food,” people offering “prayer is important, too…We need people to pray for this ministry.”

The volunteers returned to their stations, and soon dining-room greeter Jim Caldwell was opening the doors to guests. Fifty men, women and children filed in for hot soup, sandwiches and dessert. Among the first in was Wayne. Behind Wayne was a guest sporting a small backpack, who quipped: “The soup is always good here.”

In an area adjacent to the dining tables, Deacon Gil had set up a distribution point for free personal care items – from soap, deodorant and toothpaste to toilet paper, band aids and hair spray. Marc, a new volunteer who has been a regular guest, was manning that station, allowing each guest to select two items.

Yesterday, Deacon Gil noted, Compassion Coalition sent over four truck loads of food and commodities – in exchange for volunteer Diane Hnat spending two hours working in the Coalition warehouse.

“Two loads were free, and we paid just for the shipping on the other two loads.”

In addition to personal care items, there were cases of orange juice and canned food for the soup kitchen, plus 20 cases of baby food and 40 boxes of cereal which “we gave to Thea Bowman House” (which is located on the parish campus and provides daycare and assistance to families in need). They also got a free supply of candy bars to place in Saturday’s lunch bags as well as on trays during the week as an extra treat.

But the soup kitchen couldn’t accept everything that Compassion Coalition was offering, as its freezers, coolers and storage bins were jammed full.

“That’s why we need a walk-in freezer and a walk-in cooler,” said Deacon Gil, noting that he and his coordinating group are applying for a grant and trying to raise money to obtain and install large walk-in units. “We need the capacity to accept donations as they’re made available.”

Meanwhile, as Marc was distributing personal care items, Jim was kibitzing with hungry diners as they laughed and chatted among themselves. Suddenly his voice boomed across the room:

“Hey, we’re all family here!”