Rise and shine for homeless

By | February 28, 2013

“We are grateful for all our meal volunteers do for our guests seeking shelter from the cold winter months,” said Mike Westenberg, who coordinates the meal program at the shelter. “The love and concerns for our guests they pour into each meal is obvious to our staff, volunteers and nightly guests. It is a vital part of the ministry we share in as we all seek to care for our brothers and sisters.”

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Amanda Miranda moves French toast from the griddle to a pan held by volunteer Lou Stoller at St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter on Feb. 24. Providing breakfast for shelter residents is one of several outreach efforts by high school faith formation students at St. John the Evangelist Parish, Green Bay. (Rick Evans | For The Compass)


Large containers of bacon and French toast were transported next door from the parish kitchen. The shelter’s kitchen is not licensed for cooking food for the guests. Church and school groups, organizations, co-workers and families fill most of the dinner schedule.

Notre Dame School, De Pere, for example, provides meals every other Monday. Most days, only cold foods are available to shelter residents in the morning, so the St. John the Evangelist faith formation group chose breakfast. They will return to serve pancakes in three weeks.

Funds to purchase the breakfast items were collected through the “Souper Bowl of Caring,” a nationwide, youth-led effort, which encourages people to make donations at worship services on the weekend of the Super Bowl.

“We let the parish know in advance that we would be doing this kettle campaign at each Mass,” explained Ron Renquin, a volunteer with the faith formation program. “The kids speak from the pulpit so it gives them an opportunity in front of the people and for the congregation to see who they are.”

Renquin and Helen Wellens are both in their sixth year working with the high school students. Jolene Hunkins and her daughter, Bridget Hunkins, a former student in the program, also serve as volunteer leaders. Catholic social teaching is a focus with the young people.

“It’s much more than preparing a meal,” said Renquin. “It’s understanding, it’s advocacy, being aware of what is happening within your city. How does your city view homelessness from different perspectives? Open your eyes when you go to school. How many kids at your school are living out of the backseats of cars?”

The goal is to reach the students so they apply what they learn at Wednesday evening faith formation sessions to their everyday lives, he added.

“All of a sudden, they start noticing people on the buses,” he said. “They notice people in the library and the homeless people walking downtown. That means that they don’t look away, but share a smile or say hello. It may be the best thing that happened to that person the entire day. How can we make a difference?”

Additional outreach efforts also allow the teens to live out their faith. The students organized a stone soup meal for the parish. Suggested ingredients were written on stones and placed in baskets near the church doors. Parish members grabbed a stone and returned the ingredient.

“We generally not only get more than enough ingredients to make the soup, we usually get enough to make sandwiches and various other things to go with it,” said Renquin. “It becomes a community building situation.”

“Fill a Pantry Shelf,” a collection for Paul’s Pantry is under way. Students will not only deliver the food, but spend a Saturday working at the pantry.

“Everyone goes their different directions (at the pantry) and at some point we meet up,” said Renquin. “We go for pizza afterwards. We use it as a wrap. Everyone gets to share what they did that day and what they learned from the day.”

The teens also ring bells for the Salvation Army during the holiday season and will spend a Saturday shopping for items needed at St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter.

Amanda Miranda, an exchange student from Brazil who is a senior at Preble High school, has participated in the faith formation program, including the service projects. She attended church services with her mother in her homeland, but was not previously involved in community outreach.

“Here, it is really different for me,” she said. “I like the generosity of people giving to those who don’t have the same things they have in their lives.”

Miranda is 18, so she was able to serve breakfast at the shelter.

“The people were so appreciative,” she said. “They made a point of coming back and thanking us.”

“I wish I was 18, so I could help out, but at least I know that I’m doing my part by making the food,” said Hansen, Miranda’s host sister. “Last week, I heard about the death of someone from hypothermia. That is really sad. It really touches the heart when you see people in need and you know that you are helping them out.”

For more information about St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter, go to www.stjohnhomelessshelter.org. Those interested in providing a meal at the shelter may contact Mike Westenberg at [email protected]

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