Reflections from a Soup Kitchen
November 15, 2018
Bro. Paul Martin Kennedy, O.P. is a member of the Dominican Community at St. Patrick’s in Columbus, Ohio and a member of the Catholic Social Teaching Advisory Council for the Province of St. Joseph.
I have been working at Holy Family Soup Kitchen and Outreach for five years now. This Soup Kitchen could be in any city. It just so happens that we are located on the West side of Columbus Ohio.
Here is something to think about. Have you ever opened an empty refrigerator or opened the cupboard doors exposing only the vast bare darkness of emptiness, only to ask yourself where the food was going to come from to fill them. Have you ever had to worry about where you’re going to lay your head after a long day? Have you ever had to worry about how you’re going to pay your rent, or utility bills if you came up short on your monthly budget? Have you ever asked yourself…? Or worried about…? The list of questions and worries could go on and on with no end in sight. The simple fact of the matter is that for far too many of our brothers and sisters these questions and worries are a big part of their daily lives.
Thankfully there are places that can, and want to help. I would like to suggest that you find such a place. Your local soup kitchen is a good place to start. Soup kitchens should be in fact a work of mercy to: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, help to keep people in their homes, help shelter the homeless, visit and pray for the sick and imprisoned and yes we have even helped bury the dead.
I have meet a lot of wonderful people during my time here. This has given me the opportunity to see a side of life that I always knew existed but never gave much thought to, mainly because I had never really seen it first-hand. Even though we keep hearing that our economy is improving and that unemployment is lower than when I started at the soup kitchen, day-to-day life there goes on. People in need still come and will always come.
We will always have people who are poor and need help. There has been throughout the years a tendency to refer to “these people” that are served as “clients,” “consumers,” or whatever the term of the day is. We must always remember we do not serve mere “clients,” and “consumers,” we serve human beings. When we identify them as “clients” and “consumers” we run the risk of not seeing the full person but only a problem that can be solved by giving them something. Removing the human element from the people that we serve is contrary to the Gospel message. This of course should be avoided at all cost. In truth it will only make us bitter and we will come to resent the very people that we claim to be trying to help.
Sometimes I am troubled by the thought that we can unintentionally create dependency. Are we helping people, or are we keeping from reach their potential, from trying to find a solution to their problem on their own? That’s a hard question to answer. Even after five years or working at a Soup Kitchen I am not sure I have an answer.
I think the first thing we have to go is to try the best we can to give our brothers and sisters what they need at that moment. Unfortunately for far too many of them, the “at that moment” many never end. For others it will come and go. We have must always do the best we can to help people stand on their own. In doing so we are them with human dignity. At times, this may mean saying “No.” Saying no is okay if it is done justly and charitably. Just because someone has a need does not mean that they don’t have to follow the rules or that they can lie and use manipulation to get what they want. When we do say no it must never be out of anger or spite. Most of all, we offer a yes to the dignity of each person who comes through the door.
God Bless You.