By Steve Vivona
Friday is a day of the week with many happy connotations for
most people. It's "Getaway Day," and a time when people are either
thinking about relaxing over a pleasant weekend or getting
important chores done. At St. John's Friday is also known as a day
when some very important work gets done.
For some time the Office of Campus Ministry has sponsored
"Fridays in the Soup Kitchen," where St. John's employees volunteer
at the St. John the Baptist Parish soup kitchen for a few hours out
of their workday. Designed to integrate service into the lives of
staff, faculty and administrators the program is rooted in
Vincent's mission of direct service to the poor.
Director of Campus Ministry Pamela Shea-Byrnes worked closely
with the Office of Human Resources to make this program as
accessible to University employees as possible and received
permission for them to volunteer once a semester for this program
and not lose any vacation time.
Ms. Shea-Byrnes said employees are also encouraged to bring
hygiene items such as razors and shampoo. "We want to help people
realize it's not only about someone needing a meal but someone
needing all the things you need when you don't have a home."
Before leaving the soup kitchen the employees attend an
orientation so they know what to expect. "The fact that (the site
is located) at the old St. John's University isn't lost on us.
There's a real significance to the idea that that's where we
started and we go back there to do something we should be
Ms. Shea-Byrnes noted that there is always a waiting list for
the program when it is announced each semester. "It almost
instantly gets filled to the brim," she noted, adding that some
employees elect to do it more than once and take a vacation day in
doing so. "It's an experience that's transforming," Ms. Shea-Byrnes
Employees also have a chance to see the other programs offered
to the clients at St. John the Baptist that include health and
legal services and assistance for mothers and children. "They see
the broad spectrum of creative, smart responses to poverty (that
are) designed to help people get out of the situations they're
Ms. Shea-Byrnes explained that the philosophy behind the soup
kitchen is to treat the clients as if they were guests in a
restaurant, and employees do have a chance to interact with
"Fridays in the Soup Kitchen" is just one part of the ongoing
relationship St. John's has with St. John the Baptist. Campus
Minister Victoria Migliore observed, "We're not just going to serve
a meal. We're going to come down and be with them as a community.
We might see the people we serve a meal to on a Saturday where
we're cleaning up the neighborhood. They might be a parent of a
student that goes to the grammar school who we're mentoring. We can
often put a name to the face and want to continue to incorporate
our programs down there and say, 'You are a part of us. We are one
Ms. Shea-Byrnes also applauded the work of Pat Tracy, Director
of "Fridays in the Soup Kitchen," as well as coordinator of their
Mobile Soup Kitchen. "He has been so hardworking and creative
around these issues. He not only gives people the opportunity to
remember the poor but enables them to respond to them in practical
Ms. Shea-Byrnes added, "I think there's also a sense of pride
that being at St. John's means you're not only a part of the
Vincentian tradition of higher education but a part of the
Vincentian tradition of feeding the poor and hungry."