Around the ArchdioceseEvangelizationStewardship

‘For I was hungry and you gave me food’

People around the archdiocese who feed the hungry are highlighted in this part of our ongoing series on the cop oral works of mercy during this Year of Mercy

By Dan Russo

Witness Editor

DUBUQUE — After saying grace, the residents and guests at Hope House in Dubuque dug in. Conversation picked up as the group passed plates of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans and fresh baked rolls around a large table in the main dinning room and a smaller one set up to accommodate overflow visitors in the living room.

The recent meal April 4 was one of two open to the entire community each week at this place, one of several Catholic Worker Houses in the archdiocese. The gathering brought about two dozen people of diverse backgrounds together. Regulars and newcomers shared the unique intimacy created when breaking bread around a table.

“I wouldn’t have been able to afford to eat tonight,” said Kristi Lewis. “I don’t have the money. Tomorrow, I get my check.”

Lewis used to have a good job in the construction business, but suffered an injury that left her unable to work. She’s been living off of disability payments — a serious drop in income. It’s tough to stretch that check, so she’s grateful for Hope House’s hospitality. “We usually have more than enough to eat and we usually have good food,” she said. “It’s filling, home made.”

Bishop Brown, a resident of the house, says the meals provide help for people with low income, but also give people a social outlet.

“People can come and make friends,” he said. “I can honestly sit here and say it helps build community,” asserted Jayme Schmitt, another resident.

The Hope House is part of a movement started during the Great Depression by Dorothy Day, a convert to Catholicism, and Peter Maurin. The houses have since spread around the world. They are private lay-led organizations focused on the corporal works of mercy, particularly sheltering the homeless and feeding the hungry. This week (April 10-16) the archdiocese is encouraging parishes, individuals and others to engage in projects to feed the hungry — part of a larger effort on all the corporal works going on throughout the Year of Mercy. Tom Johnson, the Hope House director, provides an example of a lay Catholic person who lives out this Gospel value.

“We do it because Jesus fed the hungry and he asks us to do it,” Johnson said. “We believe that people who are in need are images of Christ and God to us, so we want to serve God through them. We also believe it’s a matter of justice.”

The meals brought in twice a week are donated by volunteers — with the most recent dishes prepared in the homes of parishioners at St. Mary and St. Augustine Parishes in Platteville. Dave and Donna Swanson drove the food in from Wisconsin. A group of students from Divine Word College in Epworth served and cleaned up. The three women religious and seminarians come in on a regular basis to do this. “I think it’s a great ministry because you’re helping others and it also helps ourselves,” said Sister Theresa Li, IHM. “We learn from (the people we serve).”

The Vietnamese religious sister is among many people in the archdiocese who dedicate themselves to feeding the hungry as a way to live out their faith.

Stop Hunger Banquet

The parishioners at St. Joseph Parish in Elkader recently drew over 100 people to their Lenten Stop Hunger Banquet, where they raised about $1,500 for Mary’s Meals. The international charity is dedicated to providing one locally sourced meal to students at schools. Over Lent, through various efforts the parish got together about $2,600 total. At the banquet, the participants got a sense of what it’s like for the 795 million people in the world who don’t have enough food to be healthy. The diners were divided into three groups — poor, medium income and wealthy. They received the amount and types of food each group worldwide would eat at a typical meal. “The whole idea is not to make people feel guilty but to realize most of us have won the lottery,” said Joleen Jansen, a catechist at the parish who helped organize the event. “It’s more about what are you going to do. There’s enough food so everyone in the world should have enough to eat. How do we make it happen?”

Red Bags at Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit Parish in Dubuque is joining several other parishes in the area in offering its members cloth grocery bags to fill up on a regular basis and bring to Mass each week. The non-perishable items will be taken by the St. Vincent DePaul Society to be distributed at Food Bank in the city. “Ten donors gave money to pay for the bags,” explained Mary Lou Baal, director of administrative services at the parish. “They’re not just for this year, but for the future.”

To solve the issue of people forgetting the right time to bring the bags, a receptacle on wheels has been placed permanently in the back of the parishes churches. The red bags contain the parish logo and will be distributed for the first time at Masses this weekend.

Catholic Worker in Cedar Rapids

Larissa Ruffin, director of the Catholic Worker House in Cedar Rapids, reports that her organization delivers 50 food boxes to seniors and disabled people at their homes each month, in addition to serving community meals at the house and teaching the shelter residents how to cook. The worker house partners with Metro Catholic Outreach, a charity supported by the Cedar Rapids Catholic parishes that has a large food bank. Ruffin began participating in the food deliveries nine years ago, and like many of the volunteers who deliver, has developed special relationships with the people she visits. “These are people that can’t physically get out anymore,” said Ruffin. “We’re enabling them to stay in their home longer.”

Ruffin is especially connected to a woman everyone calls “Nana.” Vicki Thompson is a 93-year-old former employee of the worker house who is now homebound. “My grandparents are the same age as a lot of the people I deliver to,” said Ruffin.

“I never want them to be alone. It makes me happy that once a month, they’re able to see someone with a smiling face.”

St. Patrick’s in Dubuque

If you’re hungry on a Wednesday night in Dubuque, St. Patrick Parish is the place to go. Meals are lovingly prepared. “The St. Patrick Wednesday Night Meal was a Lenten Project started 30 years ago to meet the needs in our Downtown area,” explained Ann Schroeder, a longtime volunteer. “When this meal started we served approximately 40-60 men, women and children. This meal now servers approximately 100 plus per week.” The meal is prepared and served by volunteers from St. Patrick and St. Raphael Cathedral, other parishes and schools, religious congregations, and various organizations throughout our community.

Waterloo Catholic Worker House

The St. Francis Catholic Worker House in Waterloo is another place in the archdiocese where the hungry can get a full belly and some fellowship. “For over 34 years we have been providing emergency shelter to men, women and children,” explained Fran Fuller, a staff member. “We also provide three community meals each week where everyone is welcome.  We usually serve from 25 to 60 people at each meal.”

As the students from Divine Word College scrubbed crock-pots, dishes and utensils in the Hope House kitchen after the recent meal, they reflected on how coming to serve at the meals is key to their development as missionaries. “We’re religious people,” said Sister Paula Li, a Holy Spirit Missionary Sister from China. “(Feeding the hungry) is part of our mission. It’s what we’re called to do. It’s part of our lives and our charism.”


Photo: Residents and guests of Hope House, a Catholic Worker House in Dubuque, eat together April 4. The house welcomes anyone who wants to come for food and fellowship to two meals a week provided by volunteers. (Photo by Dan Russo)