“If you’re hungry, you eat.”
The comment came from a volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen, referring to the policy of serving all who enter — no forms to fill out, no needs to verify, no questions asked.
But it might as well be the kitchen’s motto. Since its relatively modest beginnings in the hands of thoughtful, generous and caring people — many of them religious leaders from diverse faiths — St. Vincent de Paul has had one simple, overarching theme, as transcendent of other concerns as hunger is to those who endure it: Feed those in need.
This year marks the kitchen’s 30th anniversary, a benchmark to both celebrate and lament.
Celebrate because this facility has always represented the purest form of human compassion. It meets the basest human need with no strings attached, thus exhibiting the highest of the human spirit.
Lament because the hunger not only remains, but has grown. The first meal was served June 2, 1983, to 66 people. Now the kitchen feeds an average of 300 people daily, with 400 or more not uncommon.
There are large issues here that merit discussion in more esoteric circles. How does the richest country on earth (cliche though that is) allow hunger to grow so profoundly? What priorities have we set, or failed to set, that leave adults and more importantly, children lining up in this and similar facilities nationwide?
But neither those questions nor their potential answers matter to the staff, volunteers and donors who relentlessly ensure the kitchen is open and the food is coming. They just keep managing to gather, prepare and serve enough victuals to all who enter, day after day, week after week, month after month, for an astounding and invaluable three decades.
For perspective, here’s some history:
Since the soup kitchen opened …
1986, the Space shuttle Challenger exploded (the shuttle program has since recovered and been discontinued); 1989, Exxon Valdez runs aground; 1989, U.S. troops invade Panama; 1991, a U.S.coalition drives Iraq out of Kuwait; 1991, the USSR disintegrates; 1993, the World Trade Center is car-bombed; 2001, The Trade Center is destroyed in a terrorist attack that reshapes national security and prompts two wars; 2004, U.S. Troops take Baghdad following the Iraqi invasion; 2007, the iPhone launches the age of the world in your pocket …
It’s just a bare smattering, but the picture is there. The world has radically evolved and reshaped in ways both imaginable and inconceivable the day that first meal was served.
And yet through it all St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen’s mission remained noble, and unwavering as its need.
If you’re hungry, you eat.