Food for the Soul
by Nadia Matos
The kind of numbers that the De Mazenod door outreach group sees every month are staggering. Just over nine-thousand people were served during the month of May. In just one month their numbers have increased by 2,600.
So it should come as no surprise that this past Sunday, the Pentecost Luncheon was well attended serving about 160 people in under two hours.
Getting a lunch like this together took about a month of planning and preparation says Sherri Ramirez, the outreach coordinator. About 80 volunteers helped in some way to make the lunch possible. Some were in the kitchen cooking, others set up the gym with tables, and others helped serve the guests or clean up.
This was the first time that Diane Downey volunteered here for a St Patrick’s dinner, she was on the volunteer table directing the scores of people who showed up to help.
“I think it’s the right thing, it’s a good thing to do, it’s a gratifying thing to do,” said Downey.
I was one of those volunteers, who helped to serve everyone as they sat down. As I walked into the gym, I noticed that there was a kind of excitement in the air. Maybe it was just me, but it felt like it was the same kind of excitement not uncommon in a live stage production. It was close to show time and our guests were about to arrive.
Our instructions, as a group, was to treat everyone who walked through the doors, as “Kings and Queens” said Ramirez.
Twenty-four tables were set up in the gymnasium, 12 on each side. Volunteers were divided into two teams, green and blue. I was on the blue team, serving table number five with another volunteer by the name of Barbara.
This was the first time I have ever done something like this. Despite having good intentions, most of the time, I worked shift work which included nearly every weekend and all holidays so my schedule never really allowed me to participate.
The doors leading into the gymnasium opened at 1:00 p.m., and as people began taking their seats, I felt a wave of responsibility come over me, I wanted to make sure that these people felt like they were at a restaurant, like they were being treated with respect and courtesy.
I know so many of them don’t get the kind of love and care that they need. So I hoped that if I could just show them some compassion, little bit of TLC even for just a few hours, they would forget how life tricked them, how they ended up alone, confused and hurting.
Once my partner and I took the drinks to our table we began delivering the very generous plates of food. On the menu, a generous portion of roast beef, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, coleslaw, gravy and a buttered roll, and for dessert, a vanilla cupcake with small red maple leaf sprinkles on top.
At my table, my guests told me they were so happy to be one of the first ones served.
A young lady by the name of Laura told me, “You have no idea how you’ve made our day,”
“Oh, how so?” I asked. “We are usually the last ones served and have to watch everyone else eat first,” said Laura.
Laura and her two friends scraped their plates clean, and said they enjoyed their meals. “The coleslaw was amazing,” said Laura. “I ate everyone’s leftovers.”
Laura was one of the few women at the lunch, most of Sunday’s guests were men. According to the City of Hamilton, single men usually make up the largest group of people searching for emergency shelter.
Robin Humphreys is a long time parishioner who brought her son and daughter along to experience something new.
“People need to be more grateful for what they have, and they should thankful and I think we can all be thankful for something. I just wanted to bring my kids and introduce them… I think it’s very important for them to contribute and to see what it feels like to contribute because a lot of people don’t have that opportunity in life,” said Humphreys.
Volunteer Patricia LeBlanc told me a similar story, she said the whole event was humbling. “It lifted my spirits, and felt good to be part of something good,” said LeBlanc.
And with each new volunteer that I spoke with, they all had the same thing to say, helping out in this small way was a gratifying experience, one that, not only fed the hungry but on Pentecost Sunday fed their souls.