DAVENPORT — Amber and Brenda enter the small converted garage next to McAnthony Window where several other diners enjoy a breakfast of biscuits and gravy. Sister Judy Herold, SSND, gives the women a hug. “It feels like she hugs you on the inside,” says Amber, an assistant to Brenda, a cancer patient.
The warm exchange epitomizes the ministry of presence that St. Anthony Parish is committed to providing to the hungry patrons of McAnthony Window. Providing a dining room inside the former garage provides another opportunity to do so.
“Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we strive to fulfill the three-fold mission of the Church,” St. Anthony Parish’s website states. That mission is to “proclaim the message of Jesus; promote community and fellowship; provide service and encouragement to the people in our community and the larger community of the church.”
McAnthony Window has been open for years, providing a free breakfast to people in need, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Patrons receive their meals outdoors, at a window of the parish hall. With the addition of the modest dining room, guests can now take shelter from inclement weather instead of eating their breakfast at picnic tables outside.
“A lot of people were trying to find a space to invite (patrons) indoors, Sr. Herold said. The parish tried out the tiny parish library as a dining room, but it wasn’t suitable. Dale, a regular guest that the parish hired to help out at McAnthony Window, told her that “the folks really don’t like the library because it’s so small and closed in.”
Pastoral Associate and Business Manager John Cooper proposed repurposing the small garage, filled with various pieces of equipment and a heating unit. The building was cleared, four folding tables, along with chairs, were set up and the cement block walls decorated with a bust of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a three-dimensional depiction of the Last Supper that belonged to Cooper. He added other furnishings: a kiosk with information and referral for guests searching for housing, jobs, emergency shelter and other necessities; a clothing rack, and a separate table for to-go food items. Another table contains a basket of coloring books, which have been a big hit. “By talking to people, you get to know their needs,” Cooper said.
A preschooler named Halo, who accompanies her grandma to McAnthony Window, longed for a doll. A volunteer named Jean had a beautiful doll sitting on a shelf at home that she had intended to donate. Now she knew why. The doll was meant for Halo, Sr. Herold said.
Along with the garage makeover, parishioners are being invited to volunteer for one morning — or more, if they desire — to “meet some of our guests and be a welcoming presence,” Sr. Herold said. “I’ve been getting parishioners to come in one day at a time.”
Jack Arth, a recent widower and member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish, has begun volunteering at McAnthony Window. “I’ve done a lot of volunteering before (with my wife), Arth said. On a cold morning in April, he and a diner were deeply engaged in a discussion about Jesus.
“I think each of our (volunteers) who come here have something to offer,” Sr. Herold said. Volunteers are encouraged to ask, “Is there anything I can help you with?” Having a conversation with guests is a vital part of the ministry, and provides nourishment for the heart, Sr. Herold believes.
Handing out plates of biscuits and gravy at the window, McAnthony Window volunteer Donna Scott says of the breakfast guests, “I want to help them. This has been a part of my life at the church for 20 to 25 years.” McAnthony Window Coordinator Ann Morey has also made this ministry a longtime commitment because “I like it; I enjoy it. It’s challenging.”
That attitude keeps Brenda coming back for more. In between bites of gravy and biscuits, she said that what she likes best is talking with the McAnthony Window staff and with other guests. And the food is good!
McAnthony Window and Annex
417 N. Main St., Davenport
A ministry of St. Anthony Parish, the Window serves approximately 1,500 meals each month or 18,000 a year to homeless and needy people.
Hours: 9-11 a.m. Monday through Friday.
To volunteer: Call the parish office at (563) 322-3303
or email email@example.com.
-By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger