Six of us from Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire took our places to serve a chicken dinner to guests of Café on Vine in Davenport, which provides meals to people in need. This long, drawn-out pandemic requires diners to take their meals to go. On this cold, windy first Saturday of December, I wished they could come inside.
My job was to scoop mashed potatoes and corn from warming pans into separate slots of the to-go boxes, a job that guaranteed I would not get cold! Next to me, Chris added a roll and butter and handed the box and foil-wrapped chicken thighs and breasts to JoAnn who added a baggie of cookies and a piece of fruit and placed it all in to-go bags.
Teresa replenished our food supplies, did the dishes and other tasks. Pam and Jay distributed the bagged meals to the guests standing outside the café’s to-go window. James and Lisa, Café on Vine staffers, provided oversight for the volunteer crew.
The camaraderie is one of the things I cherish about volunteering at Café on Vine. It’s an opportunity to catch up with parishioners and café staff, my “relatives” preparing a meal for the rest of the family and enjoying each other’s company in the process.
As we worked and talked, memories surfaced from my teen years working at Kentucky Fried Chicken in the Twin Cities. I spent hours boxing fried chicken and preparing cups of mashed potatoes and coleslaw to add to the boxes. However, my Kentucky Fried Chicken customers, generally, were not people in need.
My thoughts returned to the present and the difficult situations that the café’s guests might face regarding affordable housing, low-paying jobs or physical and mental health challenges, exacerbated by a pandemic. I missed seeing their faces as I scooped potatoes and corn into to-go boxes.
Throughout his papacy, Pope Francis has urged all of us to encounter people on the margins, the peripheries of society. He sets the example, reaching out especially to the poor, the migrants and refugees, prisoners, the elderly and persons with disabilities.
I remember volunteering at Café on Vine prior to the pandemic, when guests filled the dining room and volunteers greeted them at the door, cleared their tables and sat down occasionally to chat with them. For me, sitting down to chat required a willingness to be vulnerable, to overcome my own insecurities. I worried about how the guests would view me — just another person who couldn’t imagine struggling to make ends meet. Would I ask a stupid question that would cause someone to feel insulted or to clam up?
Self-consciousness did not stop me from the effort to make conversation, and I would like the opportunity to do so again, soon. I believe the Holy Spirit has shown us through this pandemic that we need to accompany one another, to support one another, to love one another, even those with whom we vehemently disagree or view with suspicion.
In the book, “Words to Love by,” Mother Teresa says, “Love cannot remain by itself — it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action and that action is service … it is not how much we do but how much love we put in the doing — a lifelong sharing of love with others.”
Serving up mashed potatoes to people in need might be a start.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)