Mary Ann Gricar and Claire Dube began preparations at 6 a.m. on Nov. 19, filling pots and platters with enough turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and pie to feed close to 200 people. The honored guests of this home cooked meal are the people of the community who are hungry, homeless, or alone.
“No one is turned away!” exclaims Dube, food services assistant at St. Theresa Parish in Belleview. “If you’re hungry you can come eat with us. We’re happy to help. We are here to do God’s work and we enjoy doing it.”
Gricar is the parish social services director, and with Dube’s help and the help of 60 volunteers the parish operates a soup kitchen that serves a hot meal Monday through Friday year-round, but the Thanksgiving meal is an extra special occasion. When the doors open at 11 o’clock Dube and a team of dedicated volunteers greet the people who come as old friends with big smiles and heaping platefuls of food. Families, with children as young as nine days old, fill the small dining room or join others at picnic tables outside.
For the people of St. Theresa, the soup kitchen is a way to perform corporal and spiritual works of mercy, giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, and comforting the afflicted. The season of Advent, which began on Sunday, November 29, offers a special invitation to show mercy to people in need as the faithful prepare their hearts for the birth of Jesus at Christmas.
“Advent is a time of welcoming, of preparing” explains Bishop John Noonan. “And who do we welcome and prepare for? Christ. Christ is the symbol of mercy and love. What better way to welcome his gift of mercy and love than by acts of mercy.”
This Advent season has an even greater emphasis on mercy as the Church will begin the Year of Mercy on December 8. In his Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis calls all Catholics to practice the works of mercy more fervently.
“It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty. And let us enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy.”
For Helga Neubauer, long-time soup kitchen volunteer with her husband Bill, it is the Gospel that drives her, particularly a passage from the Gospel of Luke which she has taken as a personal motto: “…when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.” (Luke 14: 13-14)
“When you do something for people who are in need and you know how much they appreciate it, it’s food for the soul” says Neubauer. “It helps my faith being here. I wanted to do something meaningful and this program gets you on fire, it lights you all up!”