Thursday, June 26, 2008

Numbers Tell a Shocking Tale

Deacon Gil Nadeau has become an advocate for our soup kitchen guests. He met with staff at the Resource Center for Independent Living (RCIL), and this past Wednesday RCIL sent an outreach team to Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen to see the need first hand.

The team did a survey of 62 of the guests, and 10 actually filled out an RCIL questionnaire, with five of them accompanying staffers back to RCIL for follow-up assistance.

“This has been a very humbling experience for all of us,” one RCIL staffer told Deacon Gil.

She shared the results of the survey. Of the 62 guests interviewed:

-- 49 (or 70 %) needed employment.
-- 41 (66 %) needed help with food.
-- 40 (65 %) needed clothing.
-- 33 (53 %) needed assistance with transportation.
-- 21 (34 %) needed medical help.
-- 17 (27 %) needed shelter.
-- 14 (23 %) expressed the need for counseling.
-- 13 (21 %) needed help with the cost of utilities.

While the numbers confirm our belief that we are serving the homeless, the jobless, and the working poor, it’s still shocking. At least 17 of our guests are living on the streets. At least 49 do not have jobs. And 21 need medical care.

And those are just the ones who were interviewed. We’re now seeing 60 to 80 guests a day, and as many as 110 on some days.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lunch Milestone

“We reached a milestone at the soup kitchen,” Deacon Gil Nadeau told the congregation at the conclusion of 10:30 a.m. Mass a couple of weeks ago.

“We served 1,589 lunches last month.” The congregation erupted into applause.

“And just last week we served 400 lunches.”

He paised the volunteers and donors.

“It takes a lot of effort, thanks to our volunteers. And it takes your contributions.”

In an email to West Side Kitchen’s Coordinating Group, Deacon Gil announced another milestone, with volunteers serving lunch to 110 people on a recent day – a jump from the previous high of 85.

“The kitchen crews are doing a fantastic job taking care of our guests on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “The food is wholesome, balanced and always presented very well on the tray.”

Volunteers were chatting among themselves about how much the guests appear to appreciate the food, Quality Control Coordinator Joanne Lockwood noted. One guest was overhead saying, "My diet depends on the generosity of my neighbors."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Let the Little Children Come to Me

By Mary and Robert Stronach, SFO

Wayne, our legally blind guest, was laughing and conversing with volunteer Jim Caldwell between sips of soup. He mentioned he had been on the phone with Protective Services that morning.

“They told me to get my butt right over there,” after learning he had been living on the street for 47 days.

“But I thought I would get something to eat first.”

Across the room, volunteer Katie Koscinski, SFO, was playing “high-fives” with a giggling 3-year-old. His 6-year-old sister came rushing over with a big smile to take a turn at slapping Katie’s hand. Their mom, a refugee who speaks very little English, smiled as she nibbled on a sandwich.

The poignant truth is that children come to the Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen. Some are infants and some, a little older. It’s not unusual to have as many as six or seven on any given day. Shortly, when school is out, we fully expect those numbers to go up. For the most part, our children are very well behaved. They sit close to Mommy or Daddy, quietly enjoying their soup and sandwich.

We are happy to see them…to know that they are having a nutritious lunch. And part of us wants to scream, “Why? Why should our little children have to know that hunger is real? Why should they even know what a soup kitchen is?”

Everything should be sunshine and daisies for them. They should feel safe and secure, knowing that Mommy and Daddy will always be there for them.

Life is not so easy for some families. Dad or mom may have lost a job. The spiraling price of oil and gas has affected the cost of transportation, utilities, food and just about every product we use. The dollar just doesn’t go as far. And our children are affected. They now come to the soup kitchen. It’s part of their daily routine, just like playing with toys or taking a nap.

When you come right down to it, West Side Kitchen came at just the right time. It is a blessing. And, we have our children close to us – safe and secure at the parish center.

When you come right down to it, it’s a miracle we have them with us, rather than in an empty apartment with an empty refrigerator.

When you come right down to it, they bring us joy. The volunteers play with them and laugh. And the other guests smile every time they see a child. Isn’t that the way it should be?

Christ said, “Let the little children come to me.”

They are here, Lord. Keep them safe.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

An Open Letter to My Homeless Friend

By Mary Stronach, SFO

We speak briefly at Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen. You smile and tell me how great the soup is. “It’s the best soup in town.”

Such small talk must hide many scars – of war, of a lost childhood, of lost love, lost companionship, lost work, lost home, drug use, alcohol, emotional setbacks. Whatever it was, something happened that put you into a tailspin. One morning you found yourself homeless and alone.

How was your childhood different from mine? How did you end up under the overpass and how did I end up living in the country? Why do you have to worry more about the cold and rain than I do? Why do I have the pleasure of a daily shower, clipped nails, clean clothes, hot meals, and a warm bed?

If we’re both children of God, why is our earthly inheritance so different? Homelessness was never your goal, hunger was never your intention.

Yet, here you are, walking through Christ’s passion.

Here you are. Hungry and homeless. Your “bed” is a bush or a patch of grass. The sum total of your belongings fits in your pockets or an old grocery cart.

Where do you go from here? Are you at the point that you don’t even see beyond your next meal at the soup kitchen? Do you ask yourself the same questions we all ask in life? “What is my purpose? How do I get there? Where is the meaning of my life?”

Trust in the Lord. He will care for you.

Many years ago I heard a man sing the following song. He was previously homeless and a recovering alcoholic.

“Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I'm happy,
I sing because I'm free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.”

If He loves and cares for the sparrow, how much more does He love you? Open yourself to His healing love.