Every day Bob Begley prays the Prayer of St. Francis: Lord make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. And where there is sadness, joy. …

As a Secular Franciscan in the St. Mary of the Angels Fraternity in St. Johnsbury, Begley said the prayer rejuvenates him and helps him to see that God is using him to help others in many ways.

Begley is guardian/administrator of Martha’s Community Kitchen in St. Albans, a service that tries to meet people’s basic needs for food and companionship while offering hope through compassionate service. Supported by area houses of worship, businesses and individuals, Martha’s relies on volunteers who strive to welcome, inspire and nourish and to restore relationships through respect and dignity.

Lunch is served at Martha’s every day with “grab and go” meals and senior social time also offered. (See the website for times: marthaskitchen802.org.)

More than 100 volunteers keep Martha’s open every day of the year, even with extended hours on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Located now in a former Moose Lodge, the community kitchen looks more like a restaurant than a soup kitchen. Donated fresh flowers dress up each table, and holiday decorations create a happy atmosphere.

In addition, crosses, religious pictures and statues — including one of St. Francis of Assisi — give guests at the Lake Street location the affirmation that this is indeed a place where religious values of love, respect, dignity, care and compassion are espoused.

Trained as a nurse, Begley worked in the corrections field of restorative justice. He is the only full-time staff member here and learned about “mission and giving” from the Grey Nuns who educated him in Lowell, Massachusetts.

For him, Martha’s Community Kitchen is a vehicle through which he can live out his call to discipleship. “There is so much here you are called to do,” said the member of the current class in the Diocese of Burlington’s Lay Ministry Formation Program.

Sometimes he is called to listen or to pray. Sometimes he offers words of encouragement. Always he offers compassion.

“Community is when sorrow is divided and joys are multiplied. That happens here, and that is the Holy Spirit,” he said.

Martha’s traces its roots to 1983 when members of local churches saw a need for St. Albans’ first soup kitchen that would serve one hot meal a day. Since then it has changed locations and grown in size and service.

In 2000 the kitchen served about 9,000 meals. In 2015 volunteers provided more than 7,700 hours of service and served 18,253 meals. In 2017 more than 28,000 meals were served with volunteers providing more than 9,050 hours of service.

Begley, a parishioner of Holy Angels Church in St. Albans, said though his work at Martha’s he is evermore sensitive to the presence of God in his life. “I don’t know what’s going to be next, but I know He is with me,” he said.

Though it can be easy for some people to judge others, meeting people in their need at Martha’s helps Begley to realize everyone needs others. “’In giving we receive.’ Sharing this blessing we become blessed and we bless others,” he said.

—Originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

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