“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
This well known line from the Gospel of Matthew illustrates the fact that when we serve the poor, we are serving “other Christs.” That theme of service was evident as Mary Queen of All Saints Parish in Pennsauken helped prepare a recent donation of soup for Joseph House in Camden, a Catholic-based charity that offers aid to the “least of our brothers and sisters.”
According to Maryanne Hanger, co-chair of the “Soup Makers for the Homeless” committee, the outreach evolved from Friday night soup suppers during Stations of the Cross. “Last year we decided to do something a little different and we reached out to Joseph House,” explained Hanger. “They need soup every day. So we decided to pull a group together and make a community soup.”
Partnering with fellow co-chair Mary McGinley, committee member Kelly Rivera, and volunteers from the parish, two teams of “cooks” came together on a Sunday afternoon to chop ingredients and prepare the soup. Participants included longtime members of the parish, as well as some eager young people working to help people they had never met.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t have food; it’s a big thing for them to eat,” says Kira Kirk, an 18-year-old senior at Camden Catholic High School, Cherry Hill. Kirk participated to help fulfill her service requirements for school, but was also aware of the importance of giving of one’s self for the benefit of others. “You’re sacrificing your time to help people. That’s the whole point.”
And as the soup makers were preparing to help feed the hungry in our community, they were also being fed, according to Father Bill Moore, pastor of Mary Queen of All Saints Parish. “This is not only about serving those who need, but also how they feed our faith as well,” says Moore. “The fact that we see Christ in them and Christ feeds us with Himself. We are fed by that. As much as we give, we also receive.”
Participants had an opportunity to reflect on the gifts received by giving during a spiritual reflection, held in the chapel during each cooking session. Volunteers spoke about how the experience connected them with those in need, as well as each other. “When we do this, I feel like I’m encountering Jesus among us,” says parishioner Julia Wakelee. “It’s such a wonderful opportunity to be and share with the people you worship with in church.”
Another group from Mary Queen of All Saints helped serve the soup at Joseph House’s café program, which operates seven days a week from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. during the winter months. The café provides a simple meal, coffee and tea, emergency clothing, access to toilet facilities, and space for conversation, board games, card playing, reading and television.
“We’re providing a place for people to get off the street,” explains John Kline, executive director of Joseph House. “We began learning about the people and what their needs are. This notion of kinsmanship, that’s how relationships start. Then, we try to provide services to get our guests out of homelessness and to better state. We help and support them in their transition from complete dependence to complete independence. We’re going to help you get to a place where you’re whole and a better place where you were before: the image God has of you.”
Joseph House volunteers not only serve soup and bread to the guests, but also sit down with them, sharing a sense of fellowship. This act of kindness and friendship opens up opportunities for growth, both for those who affected by poverty, addiction or mental illness, and those who serve.
“Workers come in with the notion to give,” adds Kline. “They walk away thinking, ‘This is something that has really touched my heart and deepened my faith. I’m connected in a real way with people.’ That’s the real miracle of this work.”
The good work of Joseph House is only made possible through the generosity of parishes throughout the Diocese of Camden, including Mary Queen of All Saints, Christ Our Light in Cherry Hill, and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in Collingswood. “Many parishes respond,” says Kline. “It’s only because of the good response that we’re able to provide to those in need on a daily basis.”
Joseph House also looks to do more. The organization’s three-year plan includes moving into their own facility, expanding their current program, and offering full time social workers, nursing and job placement services. “We really see the café program as a point of entry,” explains Kline. “We don’t want to be a warehouse. We really hope to be a conduit.”
A conduit that begins with a warm bowl of soup made for the least of our brothers and sisters.
Frank Sinatra is a communications professional living in Pennsauken.