Some of the women who cook and volunteer in the soup kitchen: Rosalie Francis, left, Jane Steven and Mary Athanase.
In the heart of Love City, care can be measured by the spoonful.
Between 20 and 25 people file into the parish hall at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church at lunch time. Since 2012 it has become the church’s mission to provide the needy with a daily meal. Soup, baked chicken, stewed turkey, spaghetti and meatballs, fish and macaroni await, along with volunteers that cook, fill the plates and clean up at the end of the day.
“Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s Kallaloo Soup Kitchen opened about two years ago,” said church secretary Simonia Athense. “We started with one day, on Mondays, and then we expanded to two days, adding Fridays because we were receiving a lot of food donations from businesses.”
Efforts to provide meals for St. John’s homeless began several years ago, with the first program started by the St. Thomas-based Catholic Charities.
“I came to Catholic Charities in 2003,” said Michael Akin, executive director. “It was well established by then. What Mt. Carmel is doing is something separate, although we support each other.”
Between three St. John churches meals are available most days of the week, Akin said. Catholic Charities operates a Tuesday soup kitchen at Nazareth Lutheran Church. Volunteers from the Seventh-Day Adventist Church offered dinner service on Thursdays.
Most recently Catholic Charities branched out on Wednesdays to serve lunch to homeless people in Coral Bay. This year, Akin said, his agency is looking at partnering with Mt. Carmel to add mid week evening soup kitchen in Cruz Bay.
“Someone goes over there and we could use Our Lady of Mt. Carmel’s facility,” he said.
It’s a facility that doesn’t include a kitchen. That part is done by church-based volunteers who bring in home cooked dishes.
Josephine Malthurin recently retired as the chief cashier at Caneel Bay Resort. Now she whips up extra portions of whatever she’s serving at home and brings it to the church on Fridays.
Cooking for the 20 to 25 clients who show up for lunch took no adjustment, because as a child Malthurin said she cooked for seven members of her family.
“I enjoy doing it,” she said. “I like cooking because I do it on my own.”
Donations Come from Community
Supplies and ingredients come from donations made at church and concerned citizens, according Athanese.
“The community on a whole helps the soup kitchen by donating canned and frozen food, prepared foods, paper items, drinks, desserts,” she said. Sometimes visiting families prepare a daily meal and serve.
Students at Gifft Hill School have also cooked and served on their annual Day of Caring.
The St. John Community Foundation also lends a hand.
All of this effort, Akin said, reaches roughly one third of the 71 homeless people counted in the latest homeless census.
But Athanese said the effort goes a long way for those who show up at Mt. Carmel’s door.
“From sitting and talking to some of the people we serve, you find out a lot about their backgrounds, which sometimes amazes you” she said. “You have people who were once supervisors, owned their own businesses, have a specific trade. And for whatever reason, they have fallen on hard times.”
“Most of the people we serve are very appreciative of the meal they are receiving, she continued . They thank you profusely. It touches us the most when they can get back on their feet.”