Saint Vincent DePaul Parish feeds the hungry at Seton Sandwich Kitchen
Published: Monday, June 4, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 17:08
Every morning at 7:45 a line forms on the east side of the Saint Vincent DePaul Parish. Each person in the line has their own unique story and their own reason for being there. However, they all have one thing in common: they are hungry.
Jackie Collins, of Lincoln Park, has been a guest at the Seton Sandwich Kitchen, also known as the sandwich window, for three years. She started coming every Monday though Saturday three years ago when she found herself homeless and starving.
“There were times when I was really starving and they blessed me with food and really good desserts,” Collins said. “I love their apple pie.”
In the years since, she has found an apartment and a job to pay the rent. Now she only comes to “the sandwich window” when her cupboards are dry and refrigerator is empty.
“When I run out of food, I come here [the window] because they are the only ones who help me out,” she said.
The Saint Vincent DePaul Parish’s Seton Sandwich Kitchen started in 1980. It was called the Sandwich Kitchen because the parish priests would hand sandwich sack lunches and cups of coffee out of a rectory window to those who were down on their luck and hungry.
In 2002, thanks to a donation from Elizabeth Ann Seton, the parish renovated a small room on the east side of the church. It now feeds around 3,000 people a month and serves more than 250 gallons of coffee a month.
While the kitchen is attached to the parish, no parish funds fund it. Funding for the kitchen comes from private donors and the Hunger Walk. One of the donors is Chartwells, DePaul’s catering company. They made a deal with the kitchen that if a student requests, they could donate the remaining amount of money on their meal plan to the kitchen.
It started simply to feed those who need it and by following the Vincentian mission “do the good that presents itself.” The sandwich window is completely run by volunteers. Each day has a different volunteer leader. Some days are even staffed with volunteers from local businesses others are staffed by DePaul University students who need service hours for school.
Faith Manning, a Saint Vincent DePaul parishioner and the Saturday lead volunteer, has been volunteering for the kitchen window for the past eight years. She started as a way to meet people when she moved back to Chicago. Manning began by standing at the front door greeting guests as they check in.
“I do this because it is meaningful and I really enjoy it,” Manning said.
The Seton Sandwich Kitchen means a lot to the guests it serves. A couple of years ago the kitchen had to close down due to a large fight that broke out between guests. Since then the guests have been good at policing themselves and keeping each other in line. Manning said the guests need the sandwich window and want to keep it open so they make sure every one acts with respect. She said she has even overheard some of them tell each other to behave because they are in a church.
The guests who frequent the sandwich kitchen are not all homeless. As a matter of fact, Manning said they are mostly down on their luck and living in a shelter.
The Seton Sandwich Kitchen does not offer any social services -- they simply serve food. If the volunteers notice that any of the guests need help beyond food they refer them to the Saint Vincent DePaul Center on Halsted Street.
During the week, guests are served a sandwich, a cup of soup or fruit and a dessert of some sort. Saturdays they get chilidogs; a favorite of the guests. When at one point they ran out of funding for the chilidogs, a volunteer named Steve took it upon himself to reach out to his friends to donate money and their employers to match it.
Another favorite of the guests are the desserts. The colorful cupcakes and warm apple pie are donated by weekly by Dominick’s and Costco.
“A lot of what we do here is take advantage of access,” said Joe Colgan, a parish parishioner and member of the outreach commission.
The coffee, creamer and sugar are donated throughout the year, mostly from DePaul University’s Christmas at DePaul.
All of the volunteers have their own reasons for helping out and the kitchen attracts all kinds of volunteers from students to a past lieutenant governor. For some people, like Manning, they do it because they know they are doing something meaningful. Colgan said volunteering for the kitchen every week is his form of golf.
DePaul student Sarah Taylor is a business management major. She started volunteering for her junior experiential learning credit. While her class is ending in June, she said she wants to continue volunteering.
“I want to come back and do this again next year,” Taylor said.
She said being there and seeing the impact really made her stop and think.
“Last week some man came back up to the window and thanked me for the food and let me know how much it meant to him. It made me think about how I need to appreciate the little things,” she said.
The guests who come to the kitchen don’t share much about their lives. Privacy is very important to them. Yet guests feel comfortable with Wayne Gergich, a volunteer and former guest. He knows the regulars by name and asks about their families as he greets them with a pleasant hello checks them in.
“Greeting everyone as they come through the door gives you an inside view into their lives,” he said. “And it is a real inspiration to see how they just keep going.”