By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Father Conroy’s Vineyard of Hope, a ministry that provided Sunday breakfast and lunch and items for people in need, closed its doors Sept. 15. The closing ended a 14-year service that Sister Ludmilla Benda, RSM, started in memory of her partner in ministry, the late Father James Conroy, who had a passion for assisting people in need.
Following health challenges, Sr. Ludmilla moved back to Chicago to be with members of her religious community. She directed the Vineyard’s board of directors, led by Carol Gehrmann, to continue operating the meal site until the donations that kept it going ran out. Sr. Benda also stipulated that if someone were to open a new meal site, they could not use Fr. Conroy’s name or her name.
She originally started the meal site outside the Schricker Apartments in downtown Davenport in July 2005 with money from the estate of Fr. Conroy. Businessman Tom Roeder later offered Sr. Benda the use of a building that he owns on Fourth and Pershing streets, which served the Vineyard until its Sept. 15 closing, Gehrmann said.
As Sr. Benda saw various needs, she worked to address them, Gehrmann said. Patrons had a need for clothing, personal hygiene items and food. So Sr. Benda set up a clothing room. She collected hygiene products and other smaller items and bagged them for patrons to take, along with food that could be packed in bags. She also allowed patrons to take showers and use a washing machine at the site. Volunteers assisted her to make it all possible.
The meal site served 100 to 150 people each week. Numbers generally were on the lighter side at the beginning of the month. Gehrmann believes that the number of patrons increased during the past couple of years. In addition to the money left by Fr. Conroy, financial and food donations were made by other people to keep the ministry going. Sr. Benda did not apply for grants.
“We were the only place that served breakfast on Sundays,” Gehrmann said. Other meal sites in Davenport serve meals on Sundays — lunch and dinner.
“We are very grateful for the volunteers who have been team players. We would not have run for as long as we did without the generosity of others,” Gehrmann said.