Helping students put `their faith into action'

Program: A Maryvale teacher brings volunteers from the all-girls school to help feed the needy at a Baltimore soup kitchen.

December 02, 2003|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

Balancing a dessert tray while she walked among packed tables, Caroline Gould stopped at each one to offer an assortment of cakes, pies, cookies, doughnuts and pastries to homeless men, women and children seated in the Beans and Bread Outreach Center in Baltimore's Fells Point.

"One man asked for a cinnamon bun," Gould said after her 2 1/2 -hour shift. "I didn't have any and told him I was sorry." But she later found one of the pastries in the kitchen, and delivered it to his table. "He was happy when I brought it out."

Gould, 16, a junior at Maryvale Preparatory School, had never been to the center before last month. Neither had junior Glenna Sullivan, 16, nor sophomore Nicole Carlson, 15. But they - along with two veteran volunteers, seniors Kaci Caldwell, 17, and Heather Roberts, 17 - had asked to spend the school day working at the soup kitchen, where they helped serve hot meals, drinks and desserts to nearly 300 clients.

Every Tuesday, student volunteers from the all-girls Catholic school in Brooklandville head for Fells Point with theology teacher David Morris to set up tables, cut bread and perform tasks required to make sure that hundreds of people are fed that day.

Morris set up the program three years ago with the support of Maryvale's headmistress, Sister Shawn Maguire. He said he believes that working at the center is a way for the students "to put their faith into action. It's also a reality check for the girls. They see how privileged they are when they come here."

It was a lesson learned by the end of the day.

"You have to see it to understand it," Roberts said of the center. "But it's taught me that we should be thankful for what we have."

After receiving a blessing from students and staff at a school assembly that Tuesday morning last month, Morris and the teen-agers loaded his van with more than 12 bags of peanut butter, jelly, white bread and rolls donated by students and parents for the outreach center.

He also reminded the girls about treating the clients at Beans and Bread with dignity: be compassionate and understanding and look them in the eye; don't pity them, act out of guilt or patronize them.

Gould, Sullivan, Carlson, Caldwell and Roberts went right to work when they arrived at the center in the 400 block of S. Bond St., where clients were seated inside on pews and lined up outside waiting for a hot meal.

Sister Eleanor Noll, director of the meal program, handed out aprons and assigned several students to set tables with condiments, napkins, plastic wear and jars of peanut butter and jelly. She assigned others to cut dozens of loaves of bread, while adult volunteers and staff members heated casseroles and vats of vegetables, tossed salads or set out trays of desserts.

"We serve the clients restaurant-style here," said Sue Elias, the center's resource coordinator. "We believe it helps promote dignity and community when the clients can sit at the tables with others and be served a meal."

Beans and Bread serves meals from 10:15 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. five days a week. It provides 200 to 400 meals a day, Elias said.

"For many of them, it's their only real meal of the day," she said.

After a brief orientation for the volunteers, Elias passed out lunchtime assignments. For the next 2 1/2 hours, the teen-agers worked nonstop alongside students from Villa Julie College and the corps of adult volunteers who come every week. They seated clients, brought plates of food, gave them seconds when they asked, and served drinks and desserts.

Elias said Beans and Bread relies on faithful volunteers like the Maryvale students, who have consistently helped serve meals, donated food and contributed items that the center gives as Christmas presents.

The outreach center is sponsored by the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Baltimore and has been operating in the Fells Point area since the late 1970s.

When the Maryvale students finished clearing and cleaning the dining area, Morris took them to Jimmy's Restaurant on Broadway for lunch and to reflect on their experience.

"We see some of the same clients whenever we come here," Caldwell said after lunch. "But they really appreciate us coming, and they treat us with respect."

Caldwell said she learned that the volunteers who come to Beans and Bread "don't know what being hungry is."

Gould remembered Elias telling them that the meal they had just served would probably be the only one for many of the clients that day.

"If I had to skip a meal, I wouldn't know what to do," Gould said.

Sullivan said she wants to volunteer again at Beans and Bread, once she has made up the classwork she missed - a requirement for all student volunteers.

Even knowing that she has to make up the work, Carlson said she was glad she volunteered.

"I didn't realize how lucky I am until I met some of the people at Beans and Bread," Carlson said. "It will be a long time before I say I'm starving again."

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