Don’t Forget To Smile

St. Mary's Catholic Church

Today’s adventure took me to St. Mary’s Catholic Church to help feed the homeless in their Soup Kitchen.  The church is a beautiful old edifice built in the 1800’s, and one of the oldest churches in the city.

St. Mary's Catholic Church

St. Mary’s Catholic Church

I think my grandmother was married at this church.  The Soup Kitchen has been operating almost as long as the church has been here – since 1870.  This was going to be my first experience in a soup kitchen, so I didn’t know what to expect.  All I knew is that I felt like this fit perfectly with my mantra for wanting to get involved with the nonprofit world – everyone deserves respect, no matter the circumstance.

I arrived just before 7:00 a.m., and met Ron and Martin.  After taking out a load of trash, I met up with two students from Christian Brothers High School, and the father of one of them.  The four of us were then put on sandwich duty.

Getting started with sandwich duty

Getting started with sandwich duty

We made quite a few peanut butter sandwiches that would be handed out with the soup later that morning.  It’s funny how peanut butter sandwiches always take me back to my childhood – I loved them, and had them for lunch every day.  There is something comforting about a peanut butter sandwich.  After getting the sandwiches knocked out, we went upstairs to the attic above the church and sorted through clothes that would be given to the homeless later in the week.

Martin and I, in the kitchen

Martin and I, in the kitchen

During the break before service, I had a chance to chat with Martin.  I asked him how long he had been with the Soup Kitchen, and what brought him here.  He explained he had been here for several years, and shared with me what led him to the soup kitchen.  His honesty in opening up about what was in his heart made it sound like he was called to be here – like he is right where he needs to be.  Though we did not talk for long, this conversation is what I remember the most because it moved me. I could tell he was speaking from his soul.

It was time to begin serving, so we all gathered in a circle in the kitchen, and prayed, and Ron put us in our stations.  Before going out to the porch where we would be passing out the food, Ron made this point quite clear, “Tell each person ‘good morning’, and don’t forget to smile.  Your smile may be the only smile they see all day!”

We finished passing out the food just before 10:00 a.m., and as Ron said, we must have done a good job because nobody threw it back at us!  I think what I got most out of today’s experience was my conversation with Martin.   Hearing what led him to get involved with a nonprofit organization sounds similar to the path that I’m following.  Certain life experiences change your priorities, and you get called in a different direction.  This seems to be a recurring theme with the people I have encountered on my Volunteer Odyssey.

As we were finishing with the clean up, I was walking around the church to pick up trash left in the parking lot, and I came upon one of the men we had just served.  He motioned me to come over so he could throw away his empty cup in the trashcan.   I took it from him, and as I walked to the dumpster, said, “You have a great day!” and I made sure I didn’t forget to smile.

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Week 19, Day 2: A SOUP-er Opportunity

Another up and at ‘em day with Volunteer Odyssey! By 7:30 am, I found myself getting a crash course in Soup Kitchen 101 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Soup Kitchen by the kitchen manager, Ron, his assistant, Martin, and a volunteer, Lynn.

20140605_St_Mary_01Lynn is a champion sandwich maker.

This experience takes me back to Kansas where I worked at an agency that ran three homeless shelters. While most of my work involved coordinating volunteers, organizing fundraisers, and writing grants, I became interested in the shelters’ mission and occasionally stopped by for lunch and conversation.  I have many fond memories of soup lunches there, and looked forward to my time at St. Mary’s.

At St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen, the “soup” part is not in name only. In fact, it might be most known for its homemade soup, which is made daily by Ron and Martin. While some of the kitchen’s ingredients come from the Mid-South Food Bank, many come from donations from individuals, families, and organizations. Every man or woman who comes through the kitchen’s gate receives a cup of soup, two sandwiches, and a snack. Pastries and beverages are also on hand.

20140605_St_Mary_02The Soup Tower grows

While the actual cooking kitchen runs in the next room, the dining room operates out of what was rumored to once have been a loading dock. The narrow room has a row of picnic tables, each covered with plastic tablecloths and vases of fabric flowers. Having been told that the kitchen would be serving around 120 people, I expected it to be a tight squeeze, and was surprised by how efficiently everything ran.

Thursday’s volunteers are stretched a little thin, so my three years of making sandwiches in college served me well as I bagged ham, salami, and bologna sandwiches and chatted with Lynn, who shared a little bit about the kitchen’s history and a little bit about her life.

Next Martin showed me the delicate art of soup ladling and cup stacking. There is something terribly terrifying about stacking cup after cup of hot soup to create Memphis’ very own Leaning Tower of Soup. Martin swore that I’d still be welcomed back even if I did dump all the soup, but I didn’t want to risk it. Luckily, due to Martin’s vigilant eye, the tower never toppled.

20140605_Day2Kat with untoppled soup. Thanks Martin!

Having had a little bit of exposure to homeless programs back in Kansas, I always find it interesting to learn how other programs operate. All programs have similarities, but the large one might be the community that makes these programs tick. A program can have the best rules, mission, and structure, but the real strength behind it is its community bond.

20140605_St_Mary_03Preparing to pray before handing out food.

The soup kitchen’s guests, staff, and volunteers all have different backgrounds, different personalities, and, at times, different beliefs, but six days a week they come together to form this community. I believe that the interactions of its staff, volunteers and guests – the kindness, appreciation, and respect they share with one another – is always what’s going to hold a program together.

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Kat Franchino is a freelance writer and an avid blogger. She will happily take on any writing challenges. Contact her at katfranchino@yahoo.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen: A Thankful Heart

At lunch time, you can get two sandwiches, chips, and soup.
I am making cheese sandwiches. Yum!

I am making cheese sandwiches. Yum!

St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen is such a humbling experience.  When I arrived I met Martin, Ron, and Becky.  There was truly a sense of God’s presence with Christian music playing in the background and watching the other volunteers’ faces show just how much they love what they are doing.  Becky and I made cheese sandwiches, passed out breakfast and lunch to the homeless and even sorted some cans. A volunteer’s job is to prep the food, interact with others by serving the food and clean up. She really wanted to make sure that I got the full experience of what it means to volunteer at St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen and for that I am truly grateful.

I am serving lunch to the homeless.

I am serving lunch to the homeless.

As I was passing out the food for the homeless, I got this overwhelming sense of joy but did not know if I wanted to cry, laugh, or smile.  When I asked the homeless how they were doing, most replied, “I am blessed.”  We all should take a lesson from the homeless.  In today’s society, we can get caught up in the materialism and idolism of thinking we need the next new electronic, wanting to be a different person, or idolizing “famous” people.  I am guilty of this and it is a daily struggle.  But that is when I have to stop and remind myself to be content and thankful for what I have.  God gives me everything I need, and that goes without saying “I am blessed.”

Sorting through cans.

Sorting through cans.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church Soup Kitchen has been operating continuously since 1870. Six days a week they serve our community’s poor, homeless and less fortunate. They average more than 300 meals serving a day – 91,000 in 2012. They can provide two meals a day to a precious child of God with your support of time, talent and treasure and prayers. Volunteers are needed Monday thru Friday from 7:15 AM to 10:00 AM. If you are interested in becoming a Soup Kitchen Volunteer, we know you will find it to be a rewarding ministry and have fun along the way! If interested, please call Ron at 901-527-5350.

At lunch time, you can get two sandwiches, chips, and soup.

At lunch time, you can get two sandwiches, chips, and soup.

Thank you for reading! Blair Hayes is searching for a job where she can merge her enthusiasm for our community with her education and experience; she can bring a positive attitude ministering to high school students, college-aged students and families.  If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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7 Days of Service

Epilogue from Sarah Beth Jarnagin

I encountered a lot of different types of people and situations during my Volunteer Odyssey Week. I was blessed by a young Ethiopian boy’s grateful heart after I helped him with his geology homework; and a woman whose heart has gone out to families divided by homelessness. It all caused me to realize that instead of simply not doing enough “good things” in my life, I had been robbing myself of so many life altering people and experiences. The people I met, in need or meeting needs, appeared to me as courageous. Whether they were a young girl living life joyfully with only three swollen fingers on each hand, or a man excited to wake up early each morning and serve starving people breakfast, our city is full of people working hard to meet it’s needs. I was humbled to learn about the many creative ways people have cultivated to begin solving our issues. When one gives, more is required than time or money, sacrifice is necessary.  The individuals I served beside each made the decision to sacrifice something in their own lives.

A great reward of service is to receive love from those you have given it to.  People are grateful for the little things and those who share get to reap the benefits. Every volunteer experience was special in its own way, but there were a few people and places I can’t seem to get off my mind. There are images of children’s smiles that have stuck in my mind, people’s voices, their stories, and struggles. One eight year old African male who could barely read, without the help of his afterschool refugee program he might not ever have the chance to learn. After my week I had the chance to go back to Advance Memphis and volunteer again, there wasn’t one person that didn’t remember me. The students were so happy to see me even though they had only met me one time. I was moved to see such genuine love from people that I had only given a day’s time. I have been challenged to view people differently and to love them the way Jesus Christ has loved me. The people I encountered taught me so much. They have shown me courage. They don’t see color or poverty. I want to understand better and I want to see people as people. I know that the more time I spend with people who are different than me the more I will be able to relate to their way of life and the obstacles they face everyday. Living on the streets, living in dangerous places, being born into poverty, being treated differently because of where one is from or the way they talk and dress, all these things are normalcy to some.

I can’t relate to that. I don’t have any idea what it feels like to be treated differently because of how I look or how I’m dressed. I didn’t come from wealth, but I didn’t come from poverty either. I came from a middle class white family that had enough money for food, tv, and occasional extra things. As far as middle class I was never at the top. I didn’t own expensive things or go on lavish vacations, but I learned how to fit in with everybody else. People didn’t know the difference between my penny and their dollar. My clothes looked just as nice or better, I knew things, I spoke well. You see, the higher paid and lower paid middle class citizens all run together there is not much distinction. Yet, for people living in poverty there are always clear implications. I can’t imagine walking around with a sign on my back that said,” I have less money than you, my opportunities are more limited, my education wasn’t as good as yours.” I may not know anything about being treated differently, but I am aware of what it’s like to look at someone else and know that financial status makes one different; it means people don’t fully understand each other and the personal circumstances experienced. It causes my pride to swell up inside, and arrogantly it says they’ll never fathom a way of life that requires one to work hard for what they want and sometimes need. That pride causes dissension and resentment. I have come to realize that maybe if I looked to people who have less instead of more, then some of that pride might fade and I might begin to relate to people who live a lifestyle far different from my own means.

The majority of organizations I had the chance to serve depend solely on volunteers and support from people around them. It gave me much pleasure to see all the ways our city is being built up. I met numerous people that have answered a call on their lives. I definitely plan to revisit my volunteer sites and build relationships with the people serving and the people being served.

Feeding Memphis

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A long line of bundled up men and women stand behind the tall gates of St. Mary’s Catholic Church soup kitchen waiting to be served a meal. St. Mary’s Catholic Church serves food six days a week to anyone who is hungry. The volunteers and workers at St. Mary’s find joy in providing a meal for those in need. One woman explained to me how she found St. Mary’s for her son to volunteer as part of his confirmation, but then she decided to continue serving after her discovery. A warm cup of soup and a smiling face is enough is to give a hungry man hope. Many people come to St. Mary’s for their only meal that day. As they sit at the picnic tables staring at the familiar faces of volunteers and workers, they listen to uplifting Christian music and are given encouraging Bible verses and notes with their food. “I am blessed to be able to get to do the work I do every day.” Martin said. Martin is on staff at St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen and also attends St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

I was privileged enough to be given the task of serving the 9:00 a.m. meal to a little more than 200 people.  Many of the men and women waited in line with smiles on their faces. Anticipating the sandwich and chips they would receive, they stepped up to the stool I was sitting on.  People greeted me with a hello and several thank you’s before walking away. Ron Bezon, the manager at the kitchen, stood outside greeting regular faces and sharing conversation.

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I was privileged enough to be given the task of serving the 9:00 a.m. meal to a little more than 200 people.  Many of the men and women waited in line with smiles on their faces. Anticipating the sandwich and chips they would receive, they stepped up to the stool I was sitting on.  People greeted me with a hello and several thank you’s before walking away. Ron Bezon, the manager at the kitchen, stood outside greeting regular faces and sharing conversation.

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The food and drinks handed out from St. Mary’s are bought with money from generous organizations and members of the church. The church has been operating the soup kitchen since 1870, approximately 143 years. The kitchen averages more than 300 servings a day and reached a total of 91,000 in 2012. More than 50 volunteers from the tri-state area serve the ministry. Additional volunteers are welcome and needed Monday through Friday from 7:15 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. It is a blessing to be able to provide such a simple necessity to those in need. As one man reached up to grab a cup of soup I noticed his battered hands trembling in the cold. I was sad to see he was missing fingers and struggled to grip the cup, but it gave me joy to know he was smiling because he was being handed a warm cup of soup.

St. Mary’s serves three times each day. At 6:30 a.m., they open the doors with a prayer, praise songs and warm air from a heater blowing into the outdoor picnic area. The first meal of the day includes either hot oatmeal, peaches, a salad, or yogurt and ice water. At 7:30 a.m. Starbucks coffee and a pastry are provided. The largest meal of the day at 9:00 a.m. includes a meat sandwich, a peanut butter sandwich, a 16 oz. cup of soup, and either fruit, candy or chips. If you would like to volunteer or donate to St. Mary’s soup kitchen,  visit http://www.stmaryssoupkitchen.org or email ronbezon@yahoo.com.  St. Mary’s is located in downtown Memphis on 155 Market Street.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job that allows me to provide public relations for a faith based non-profit or Christian organization using my strengths in relationship development, social media, and writing.  If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or sjarnagi@mc.edu.

Birds of Paradise

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My day at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Soup Kitchen started early. The rain and my post-biking body aches made it difficult to get out of bed, but my “struggles” were really put into perspective for me once I got downtown and started preparing food for homeless Memphians.

St. Mary’s has been serving the poor and homeless communities of Memphis for 143 years, They host three separate meals: fruit or oatmeal at 6:30, coffee and pastries at 7:30, and then a larger meal including soup, a meat sandwich, a PB&J sandwich, and a granola bar or bag of chips. The Soup Kitchen partners with many community groups to make this happen. Many local schools and religious groups donate sandwiches, while Starbucks generously donates all of the coffee and pastries handed out each morning. The kitchen is open 6 days and week, and feeds about 100 people per day.

Dicing up some yummy cuts of chicken at the St. Mary's Soup Kitchen!

Dicing up some yummy cuts of chicken at the St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen!

I was able to help serve the main meal of the day. I started chopping cuts of beef and chicken into bite sized pieces for the soup. I was joined by Chip and Loretta, who are veteran choppers and would have sunk me in any cooking competition. They both come early in the mornings before work to help prepare the meals. What a great way to start one’s day!

While I worked I also got to meet Martin, who is the new Director of Homeless Ministries at St. Mary’s. He was explaining how he got his start at St. Mary’s through volunteering in the soup kitchen, which eventually turned into a full-time position. His story inspired me to stick with my passion in the hopes that one day it can become my career!

 PBJ, meat sandwiches, and chips just waiting to be handed out at St. Mary's Soup Kitchen!


PBJ, meat sandwiches, and chips just waiting to be handed out at St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen!

I was able to interact with all of the people in line for a bite to eat. Once people made it through the food line, they were invited to sit at one of two long tables available and enjoy their meal. The fellowship I witnessed was incredibly heartwarming. Friends in a dry place socializing with something warm to eat.  One man brought a shopping cart full of equipment. It blew over in the wind, but another man got up from his meal to help the man collect his belongings and right his cart. I was moved by this small kindness.

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Drawing done by one client of the St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen, featuring birds of paradise because being in St. Mary’s is like paradise for him.

The St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen helped me to “check my privilege,” so to speak, and remind me of all that I have. While everyone else was preparing for Halloween spooks and scares, I saw a real fear that people must overcome each day: the fear of not knowing where your next meal is coming from. But I also met a counter to that fear. Loving people who work to replace these fears with hope.

 

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a community outreach or partnerships position at a non-profit organization in Memphis. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or dsvgdik@gmail.com.
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The Poor and Powerless

If money were not an issue and I had unlimited financial resources, I would commit to helping the poor and powerless each day. This was the thought that was at the forefront of my mind when I started my day volunteering at St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen. While my heart was heavy, I was full of joy to be able to serve the homeless who do not easily have access to hot, nutritious food.

The day before I served in the soup kitchen I visited Starbucks. While drinking my coffee, and enjoying my pastry in the cool air conditioning, I saw a woman in a walker pass by. She had a sign on her walker saying she was handicapped, and needed help getting to another state. She sat on the corner for over two hours in the 90 degree heat. Not once did someone stop to talk to her, or offer help. My heart grew very sad as I sat there watching her. In two hours, I watched thousands of cars pass by her, not one car halted. Maybe I am the exception, but I cannot stand to pass any one in need without offering help, or a kind word of encouragement, when it is needed.

While speaking with some of the different staff and volunteers at the soup kitchen, they kept saying the same thing,  that they always want to treat the people they serve with respect. I agree with those working at the soup kitchen. I wanted the visitors of the kitchen to know they are respected by me, and that I was not volunteering to make myself feel better. I was volunteering to make sure that they have warm food and full stomachs. As I was volunteering, I never found a moment to take pictures. I did not want the people I was serving to think I was at the soup kitchen just for show, or to do my “good work” for the month. I have always felt a strong passion to help those who cannot otherwise help themselves. Being able to serve at the soup kitchen allowed this to become my reality. As I was handing out breakfast, I was smiling and telling my new friends in line good morning. I was slightly shocked to see so many of them smiling and greeting me in return. If I was in their shoes, I am not so sure I would be smiling. From the outside looking in, they do not seem to have many reasons to smile. But reality is, they are in line to receive nutritious food, they are thankful for the food they receive, and thankful to simply be living.

My time volunteering at St. Mary’s did not start when I entered into the facility, but the day before. Taking a few hours out of my morning to make a difference in the life of someone else is not something I will regret; I hope more people would feel the same.

Below I have included a passage from the Bible that were very present in my heart through this journey.

“For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink?…And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.” Matthew 25:35-37, 40.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job as an educator to children and adults with special needs. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: Mail to jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or Leweaver0428@gmail.com

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