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Montpelier meal ministry

A volunteer prepares coleslaw for a meal at St. Augustine Church in Montpelier. Vermont Catholic/Cori Fugere Urban A volunteer prepares coleslaw for a meal at St. Augustine Church in Montpelier.
“Your smiling faces let us know
That you care
And that’s rare
So we just want you to know
You are our
Unsung heroes, stirring soup in pots.
We just wanted to say,
“Hey, thanks a lot.”

 
The words from a “Soup Kitchen Appreciation Song” by Lauren Sales for the volunteers at the weekly midday meal at St. Augustine Church in Montpelier express the sentiments of the people who attend.
 
Like “Karen” (not her real name), who appreciates not only the nutritious meal but also the camaraderie.
 
It’s a social opportunity for the Montpelier woman who lives alone, and not having to pay for the meal is a godsend “since my money for food is gone on the seventh of the month, and then I am broke for the rest of the month,” she said.
 
St. Augustine’s is one of five Montpelier churches that hosts a meal, so a free meal is available Monday through Friday in the capital city.
 
What’s different about the meal at St. Augustine’s is that guests sit at tables in the parish hall, and their meal is served to them, no standing in line.
 
“It gives people dignity,” said volunteer Sue Walbridge, a parishioner of St. Augustine’s. “It gives them worth.”
 
Indeed.
 
When asked what she likes about the meal at the Catholic church, “Karen” was quick to say, “They wait on you.”
 
She doesn’t get to eat in restaurants often, so once a week, “it’s nice to sit down and have somebody bring [the meal] to you.”
 
On a recent Friday – St. Augustine’s day to serve the meal – sloppy Joes (and a vegetarian version) were on the menu along with coleslaw, rolls, crackers, desserts and beverages.
 
Cindy Ross of St. Augustine’s is one of the parishioners who waits tables. “I like to communicate with the people who come here,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite days. We help so many people.”
 
More than 80 people braved a cold, snowy, rainy day to attend one of the Friday meals; 75 is about average attendance.
 
Parishioners, businesses, non-profits and others support the ministry with both food and monetary donations.
 
Sometimes volunteers are concerned there will not be enough food for the meal – which began at least 30 years ago as a soup-and-sandwich meal, but “like a miracle” they never run out, said volunteer Bonnie Giuliani of St. Augustine’s.
 
She is one of nine regular volunteers who do everything from set up, to serve, to clean up; occasionally others join them. “Helping people is what Jesus would do,” said volunteer dishwasher Elliott Curtin, another St. Augustine parishioner.
 
And they have fun while they are helping others; they joke and laugh; and they share in the joys and challenges of one another’s lives.
 
But their focus at the meal is the people they serve. “This is one thing we can do that makes life a little bit better for people,” said Deb McCormick of St. Augustine’s.

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