By Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Martin Amos, wearing an apron and armed with an ice cream scooper, is ready for duty at Café on Vine in Davenport. “How about some ice cream?” he asks a woman pushing a baby stroller toward the counter of the café, which serves a hearty noontime meal to people who might otherwise go without.
Serving scoops that are a tad bit too generous, the bishop runs out of Whitey’s chocolate ice cream during his volunteer assignment Sept. 5. Café coordinator Sister Ruth E. Westmoreland, OSF, comes to the rescue with ice cream bars retrieved from the freezer.
The bishop had been invited to serve at the café by its board of directors. Clarence Darrow, a board member who is Catholic, thought it would be great to have the leader of the Diocese of Davenport helping out with the noontime meal at the café. Pope Francis, after all, had encouraged priests to get out among the people and serve.
“We thought it was a good idea,” said Jim Tiedje, the board’s chairman. “We hope to carry this a bit further in terms of the different churches and denominations that are serving at the café … we’d like to have a day where it’s basically clergy day, if you will, with all of the church leaders serving together.”
Bishop Amos has been to Café on Vine previously for special events. But on Sept. 5 he didn’t give a speech or cut a ribbon. He chopped green peppers, scooped ice cream, served seafood alfredo, dried dishes and helped Sr. Westmoreland prepare bread cubes for baking. He enjoyed serving guests, sharing a laugh with some of them and with staff and volunteers.
“How are you?” the bishop asked a man who approached the counter for a plate of food. “I’m grateful,” the man responded. The gratitude that guests expressed made an impression on the bishop.
In the hour before guests arrived, Bishop Amos cut green peppers into slices while other volunteers diced potatoes, set tables and washed dishes. Just before dinner staff, volunteers and the bishop gathered in the kitchen. Many wore blue aprons imprinted with “Building Community One Day at a Time Café on Vine.”
“Not all of you are Catholic, but we have a new pope saying that these fellas,” Sr. Westmoreland nodded good-naturedly toward Bishop Amos, “need to get out of the office.”
She led the group in prayer, thanking God “for all of the things that we have” including the ability “to make our own decisions for our own life” and remembering those who do not have enough. Sister gave thanks for the abundant, donated produce and prayed for the dinner guests who would soon be served a meal. “May we greet them warmly, and with a smile,” she said.
Volunteers and staff worked seamlessly and with a sense of camaraderie that Bishop Amos found striking. “I was amazed at the people who take time out of their day to volunteer at the café, especially since it’s not a sit-and-gab group. They worked hard, but they also enjoyed working together,” he observed.
Longtime volunteers Joyce and Dale Baraks of Coal Valley, Ill., served alongside the bishop at the counter. “I love serving people,” Joyce said. She and her husband feel so blessed and want to reciprocate. “I feel we should give back to the community and this is the best way I can think of to do so,” Dale said. “The camaraderie is great.”
Debbie Blake began volunteering in July. “I read articles in The Catholic Messenger about Café on Vine. I always wanted to help out. This is the first summer I wasn’t working,” added the retired tax preparer as she washed spatulas and spoons. She loves volunteering at the café and does so twice a week.
As she mixed up a batch of potato salad, longtime volunteer Judy Benevento, responding to a question about her favorite job, said: “I think it’s cooking and collaborating with everybody.”
Another longtime volunteer, Sharon Conard, also serves as weekend coordinator of volunteers. She also feels blessed and wants to give back. “I love to serve, clear tables, greet guests. I love to cook. I’m open to doing anything, be it sweeping the floor or washing vegetables.”
Dwight Spangler has been volunteering for about a month and since then his wife, Marilyn, has joined him. “This is my second time. I think it’s great,” Marilyn said. “Everyone works very hard and they’re organized. It’s fun.” Her husband added, “You feel like you’ve accomplished something.”
Bishop Amos said his experience volunteering at Café on Vine reinforced his understanding of the many needs that exist in the community. “We all ought to look for a place we can serve, taking into account the responsibilities we have at a given time in our lives,” he observed. “Everyone needs to be involved in something where they’re stepping outside of themselves.”
Fast facts about Café on Vine
Name: Café on Vine
Location: Sixth and Vine streets, Davenport
Mealtime: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 1 p.m. Saturday and 4:30-5:30 p.m. Sunday.
Donations: Cash donations may be sent to: Café on Vine, P.O. Box 3375, Davenport, Iowa, 52808.
To volunteer: Call (563) 324-4472.