Every Tuesday morning my alarm goes off at 5:55 am. I stumble out of bed, get dressed, brush my teeth, and wash a pale, tired-looking face. By 6:15, I am out the door, braving the cold air as I make my way up to Hogan 3 to catch an Uber to St. John’s Parish. Although getting up before the sun is not ideal, I instantly forget about how tired I look, the fact that I have class less than an hour after I get back to campus, and that my stomach is grumbling from not having breakfast. The warmth of the volunteers, the heat reverberating off the grill, and the smell of buttermilk biscuits ground me.
St. John’s Parish provides free meals to members of the greater Worcester area Monday through Friday, 7:30 – 10:30 am, and operates a food pantry Saturday mornings 8:00 – 10:00 am. When I first began volunteering at St. John’s, I was largely in charge of helping assemble breakfast sandwiches, scooping oatmeal, and buttering bagels. The interactions I had were subject to the patrons asking me for more whipped cream. This was a stark contrast to last semester when I volunteered at the Mustard Seed Catholic Worker. I was used to interacting directly with visitors by bringing their meals directly to their tables. I began to miss this interaction. I found myself surrounded by volunteers, separated from the people I was supposed to be serving.
One day Pat, one of the head chefs, brought me over to the grill and taught me how to make omelets. While I continue to struggle with flipping them, often landing a folded, half-cooked egg, making omelets has surprisingly provided me with the opportunity for the interactions I had been missing. Every time a client comes up to the counter and asks Pat for an omelet, he directs them to me. As instructed by Pat, I ask them their name and what they would like in their omelet. Sometimes the encounters are brief, it’s simply a matter of agreeing to make the client an omelet. On occasion, I learn about the individual’s story. For example, one Tuesday a gentleman expressed his gratitude for finally being able to enjoy a meal that was not made in a prison kitchen. Other times, I overhear clients expressing to Pat their excitement for finally moving into their first home. For most, being able to order a custom-made meal offers a sense of dignity and acknowledgment of being cared for. I would imagine that for most of the patrons who come through the doors of the Xavier Center, few of them are being supported by their families. For these individuals, St. John’s offers not only a warm meal and a safe place to sit down but also a chance to connect with others, with the knowledge and security that at least some of one’s needs are being met.