By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Polka music plays in the background at Father Conroy’s Vineyard of Hope in downtown Davenport where bundled up men and women wait for lunch on an icy cold Sunday in April. The Vineyard, as diners and volunteers refer to the meal site, is the only place in town where people in need can get a free breakfast and lunch on Sundays.
Sister Ludmilla Benda, RSM, has been feeding the hungry for a long time, and in the small brick building on Fourth and Pershing streets for about 13 years. The nonstop nun, who turns 92 on April 30, has been called back to her community’s motherhouse in Chicago to recuperate after a hospital stay. Volunteers are determined to continue her mission to nourish people in need.
“The intent is to continue to operate the Vineyard in the short-term until we know what is going on with Sister,” said Bill Ashton, her board’s longtime vice president. That means serving breakfast and lunch on Sundays and providing basic necessities. “Sr. Ludmilla and I both agree that in the long-term, we could serve breakfast and necessities and provide fellowship.”
This new development, along with potential changes at other meal sites in Davenport, has brought together a group of nonprofits seeking to fill potential gaps in feeding the hungry, said Dan Ebener, who chairs the Café on Vine board of directors. In addition to Café on Vine, other collaborators are St. Anthony Parish, which operates McAnthony’s Window and Annex; King’s Harvest; and Humility of Mary Shelter, Inc. The group has invited representatives from the Vineyard, the Salvation Army and Timothy’s House of Hope to join them at their May 4 meeting at Café on Vine.
“We believe that our whole community is stronger and safer when those who have the least are helped first,” said Christie Adamson, director of services for Humility of Mary Shelter Inc. “The conversation around shelter and hunger is about choosing radical acceptance of people who many cast aside. We plan to continue to help give a voice to the people who are experiencing homelessness and collaborate with groups like the Cafe on Vine, King’s Harvest and St. Anthony’s to make sure we aren’t duplicating services and are strategically planning to fill gaps when needed.”
Back at the Vineyard, volunteers hauled in heavy containers of individual meat loafs, vegetables and potatoes for lunch April 16. Other volunteers stirred taco soup, arranged rolls and cake on another table and moved the electric coffee pot into the dining room.
MaryTherese Gehrmann, 18, has volunteered at the Vineyard since she was 8 years old. Her mom, Carol, serves on the board and is filling in as a cook. “I like Sister and I like volunteering,” MaryTherese told The Catholic Messenger. “What about us?” a guest piped up from across the dining room. “You guys are great!” she responded. Her fellow Bettendorf High schoolmate, Mitch Winterlin, 16, was assisting her at the dessert table. “I like being able to communicate with people one on one,” he said.
“This place is awesome. It makes me feel good and safe. It’s like home here,” one diner said. “Sister is a kind, warm-hearted person… The food is excellent. They should start their own cooking show.”
“I come to eat and to clean up and then I go back home,” another diner, Terrance “Tre” Rogers, said. Sr. Ludmilla asked him a couple of years ago if he’d like a job helping to clean up after the meal. “She paid my rent one time. She looks out for everybody.”
“At the Vineyard, it’s a family,” Ashton said. “It isn’t just the food that people crave; it’s the fellowship. It’s an opportunity for them to come together and play cards.” Ashton, an engineer by profession, has volunteered in India and Guatemala and coordinated the building of a church in Kenya. “But the work for Sister has been the most rewarding thing I’ve done. She’s been a real inspiration; she is representative of what people should do.”
Sharon Meister, another longtime volunteer, put on her winter coat and scarf and headed outside the Vineyard to hand out fresh bananas and oranges for diners to take home April 16. “All of us have a responsibility to give back; to help, to not treat people in need as if they have a disease. If we have to go to one meal on Sunday, I’d prefer it would be in the morning. People who are homeless have no place else to go on Sunday mornings.”
Meal site services
Concerns are being raised about potential gaps in feeding the hungry in Davenport. As a result, groups that serve the hungry are collaborating to be proactive. Here is a list of meals sites that operate in the city:
McAnthony’s Window, 417 N. Main St.
A ministry of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, McAnthony’s Window and Annex serves a meal from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday. Diners may eat outside or now, inside a refurbished garage. McAnthony’s Window serves approximately 1,500 meals each month or 18,000 a year to people who are homeless and others in need.
Café on Vine, 932 W. 6th St.
The café, just west of the downtown, serves a warm meal Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 1 p.m. and Sundays from 4:30-5:30 p.m., said Waunita Sullivan, executive director of Café on Vine. On a daily basis, approximately 130 meals are served, or anywhere from 3,000 to 3,500 meals per month.
“We’re trying to figure out how we can service the needs of our community, the homeless and the needy, and utilize our services to the best of our ability.”
She’s excited about the collaboration and open communication among the groups serving the hungry and homeless. “It’s crucial to know whether (meal sites) aren’t serving.”
Father Conroy’s Vineyard of Hope, 411 Pershing Ave.
Located on the eastern edge of downtown, Father Conroy’s Vineyard of Hope serves breakfast and lunch on Sundays and on holidays. Breakfast is served from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and lunch is served from 12:15 to 1 p.m. Some changes may be on the horizon because the founder, Sister Ludmilla Benda, RSM, is recuperating from illness.
Salvation Army, 301 W. 6th St.
The Salvation Army’s Family Service Center in downtown provides space for Churches United of the Quad Cities to provide an evening meal at 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. About 100 to 150 meals are served on a given night by volunteers coordinated by Churches United.
Strategic planning is underway, and all of the Salvation Army’s operations are included in that process, said Major Scott Shelbourn. Asked about the status of the meal site, he said: “Everything that happens with the Salvation Army is part of the strategic planning process.”
He emphasized that the Salvation Army will continue to provide shelter for homeless people.
“No matter what the Salvation Army is planning on, we are not going to stop housing people.”
The Rev. Melvin Grimes, interim executive director of Churches United, said: “At the end of the day, we will serve meals somewhere — whether that is to continue at the Salvation Army or somewhere else that we collaborate or partner with. There will be no gaps.”
King’s Harvest Ministries, 824 W. 3rd St.
Located in the downtown, King’s Harvest Ministries serves lunch on Wednesdays and Fridays and brunch on Saturdays, said Director Michael Gayman. On average, the meal site serves around 100 people a day, he said.
“I’d like to see us do dinners six days a week and brunch on Saturday,” he added. The building has plenty of space and has served as many as 200 people for brunch.
Gayman is part of the group seeking to fill the gaps, “to make sure that our folks don’t go without a meal.”
Timothy’s House of Hope, 1407 W. 4th St.
According to its website, Timothy’s House of Hope serves free breakfasts Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. The building is located uphill from downtown.