10 YEARS Soup kitchen continues serving up good food, fellowship
By Steve Euvino
Northwest Indiana Catholic
CEDAR LAKE – It started 10 years ago with a handful of volunteers, 25 hungry mouths, and a blessing from Bishop Dale J. Melczek. Ten years, countless meals, and many devoted volunteers later, St. Clare’s Kitchen is still in operation, serving up food and friendship.
Bishop Donald J. Hying was there June 16 for the 10-year anniversary dinner, passing out napkins and utensils to the people lined up for hot turkey, mashed potatoes, and a piece of cake bearing the image of St. Clare, a contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi who also served the poor.
Located in the basement of Holy Name Church, St. Clare’s Kitchen today serves an average of 100 people every Tuesday from 5 to 6 p.m. The weekly meal began when members of Our Lady of Lourdes Fraternity of the Secular Order of Franciscans contacted the former pastor, the late Father Edward Kennedy, about starting such a ministry. Father Kennedy approached the parish council about the idea, and the council gave its approval.
Jim Metro, who served on the Holy Name finance council when the soup kitchen started, was attending recently with his son James. Saying the project “took off very well,” Metro noted, “It’s great that people come, not just because they’re hungry, but for the fellowship. They come for a meal and a smile.”
Franciscan Father Edward Tlucek, Holy Name pastor, observed the number of elderly who come to enjoy others’ company and the growing number of families attending. The pastor said the free meal is open to anyone, regardless of economic status.
“You come, you get fed, no questions asked,” Father Tlucek said.
Kathy Georgelas, a Secular Franciscan who with Sharon Marmalejo began the soup kitchen, has witnessed its growth, as well as community support for the project. That includes donations of bread products from a local supermarket which are placed on a table for patrons to take home.
“It’s in my blood. I enjoy it. I look forward to it,” Georgelas said. “Part of our mission as Secular Franciscans is serving the poor. We’re serving people who are in need and people who need fellowship. There are a lot of hungry people and lonely people out there.”
For Marmalejo, it doesn’t seem as though 10 years have passed. “This has really been a blessing,” she said. “I get more out of it. It’s a good feeling, helping our brothers and sisters, and it’s a lot of fun.”
As Marmalejo explained, any leftovers go to the food pantry in Cedar Lake, the local Boys and Girls Club, and St. Clare Clinic in Crown Point. During the summer, she added, local farmers donate fresh produce. “They feel good about being able to help out,” Marmalejo said.
Rose Anderson, another longtime Secular Franciscan volunteer, enjoys being around other helpers and the people they serve. “You get to know the people, and you notice when they don’t come,” she said. “The Lord has blessed us along the way. Otherwise, we would not be here.”
The volunteer-run soup kitchen receives private donations and benefits from an annual dinner and silent auction held in November.
“It’s very nice of them to do this,” said Arnoldine Griessman, a Crown Point resident who has been coming for several years. “I enjoy the people, and it’s good food.”
Ann Pence brought her five children, ages 8-16, to the meal. An occasional diner, Pence pointed to several reasons for coming to St. Clare’s – socializing, having access to bread for her children, and “they always make something different and delicious.”
Pence’s children have a favorite food – any cake baked by Mitzi Bolger. A volunteer from Illinois, Bolger bakes seven cakes a week. “I love coming here,” Bolger said. “I’ve met a lot of wonderful people.”
Among those people is Miriam Simmel, a regular diner, who, besides the food and friendly people, appreciates the volunteers. “This place is a blessing,” Simmel said. “I don’t know where they get the energy from.”