Sorting Cans, Pizza and Ice Cream

It turned out to be a divine Christmas Day for us. Having celebrated our family Christmas on Sunday, we went to St. Cloud to volunteer to help serve the noon meal at Place of Hope, an organization that serves the homeless. We had done something similar a number of years ago, when our children were just entering their adult years. Then we served at St. Cloud’s Jean Donovan House, a homeless shelter modeled after Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker House. When my daughter Becky made the decision to come home for Christmas for the first time in 13 years, she asked if we could arrange to do some similar service so that her daughter, Christina, might experience it. Place of Hope is the program that over time replaced the Jean Donovan House.

Place of Hope, we learned yesterday, is an actual place that houses homeless vets and men in recovery, but it is closely connected with and grew out of a cooperative project in which various churches take turns housing the homeless for a week every two or three months. I was aware of its beginnings. I was employed by a Catholic church at the time whose pastor, Father Ed Kramer,  had been involved with the Jean Donovan House and he watched with great concern as it closed down. It also happened, as I later discovered, that my husband’s cousin, Father John Brandes, had a hand in this creative response to homelessness in the cities. It was the structure he’d initiated in Minneapolis that was duplicated in St. Cloud. Area churches continue to house the homeless in St. Cloud.  Place of Hope is where they can come for food and fellowship each day.

As it turned out, the number of  folks being served lunch yesterday at Place of Hope were only about twenty. They expected a much larger crowd of about a hundred for supper. Since there were plenty of others who’d come to serve lunch, our family found itself in the center’s pantry assigned to unpack several boxes of foods recently donated. The shelves were poorly organized and it was impossible to add more goods in any kind of order. So organizing the pantry became our family mission. My granddaughter and I escaped to sit with the guests who were chatting and playing board games. When lunch was served, I got the pleasant job of spooning soup into large red cups. But the rest of us…Bernie, his brother Rich and my two daughters Heidi and Becky…tackled the pantry with gusto and after two hours had reorganized the shelves so that the cooks would be able to find every can of tuna, every package of gravy or bag of noodles they might need to create a meal.

God only knows what will come of the pantry when new boxes are delivered and new volunteers have to find places for the items. But it felt amazingly satisfying for my family. It reminded me of how I felt when my mother would come to my house when I was a young mom. She did our laundry, washed and put away the dishes and tidied up. Order would be destroyed within a week but it felt wonderful to have it for a day.

After our work at Place of Hope, we drove up to Little Falls where Charlie’s Pizza was serving pizza and icecream to anyone in the community who cared to come and partake. Thanks, Charlie.