By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — Volunteers arrived around 10 a.m. the day before Thanksgiving at Father Conroy’s Vineyard of Hope to fill 200 grocery bags with ready-to-eat food for people less fortunate than themselves.
Sister Ludmilla Benda, RSM, who runs the meal site on the eastern edge of downtown Davenport, put out a request to St. Ambrose University in Davenport for volunteers. She couldn’t have been more pleased with the response. About 20 individuals — including St. Ambrose faculty, staff and students and family members plus regular Fr. Conroy volunteers — took assigned spots along the assembly line that circled the kitchen, small and main dining rooms.
“I’d rather you wouldn’t rush, but be accurate,” instructed Sr. Ludmilla, a skilled organizer and former hospital president who accounted for every item so each recipient would receive the same things.
She led the volunteers in prayer on behalf of the people who would receive the grocery bags following Thanksgiving dinner at Fr. Conroy’s. “We pray for these people on the street … they’re homeless, they’re lonesome. God help them to know they are loved by many people,” Sr. Ludmilla said.
Then the work began with zest. Sounds of crinkling paper bags mingled with conversations as the workers completed their tasks in seamless fashion. Former Scott County Attorney Bill Davis arranged and stacked the bags in a large truck. “Everybody gets a bag, it’s not just one per family,” he said of the recipients. He expressed appreciation that Tom Roederer of Roederer Transfer & Storage donated use of the truck for the grocery bag project.
Kathleen Andresen, a St. Ambrose faculty member in the nursing department, said she was happy to be able to help and to bring another volunteer: her daughter Kristine, a sophomore education major at St. Ambrose. Kathleen, who teaches community health nursing, said of her students, “One of the things we teach them is giving back to the community.”
Barb Kuttler, a St. Ambrose reference librarian, also brought family members with her to help: husband Steve, daughter Annie, a student at Luther College in Decorah, and Dan, a senior at Davenport West High School. Barb secured their cooperation because, she said jokingly, “I am the czarina.” “Nothing else needs to be said,” her husband quipped, as the two filled baggies with plastic spoons.
Other St. Ambrose staff and faculty members brought one or more family members to help, including Mike Poster, vice president of finance, who worked alongside his son, Jake, a student at Assumption High School in Davenport. Mike’s wife, Kelly, and their younger daughter, Bridget, also helped out. Mike and Kelly thought it was important for their children to participate and to understand “They have a lot to be thankful for,” Mike said. “It’s their obligation to do something for people in need.”
Within 55 minutes, the volunteers had filled 200 bags with oranges, bananas, peanut butter-filled crackers, Gel cups, bags of bite-size candies, individual pies, packets of pudding cups, spicy hot sticks, cheese and cracker sticks, rolls of paper towels and plastic spoons.
“It’s amazing what happens when people work, amazing!” marveled Bob Timmons, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Blue Grass and a regular volunteer at Fr. Conroy’s. He brought his grandson, Trace, an Assumption sophomore, to help out.
George Meister, another longtime volunteer, cut up cardboard boxes left over from the grocery packing project. On Thanksgiving Day, George, a member of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport, returned to Father Conroy’s to carve 12 turkeys for hungry guests. “My hands are still hurting,” he said Monday. But he wouldn’t have turned down the task.
“It’s a deep feeling I have for helping these people. Some of us are more fortunate and some are less fortunate. It’s important for the more fortunate to help the less fortunate.” He genuinely enjoys getting to know the people he serves, and appreciates their gratitude.