By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — “Soul Food for the Soul,” a new Lenten ministry of St. Louis Parish in collaboration with their sister parish, St. Thomas More, is committed to inspiring and loving the poor. St. Louis parishioner Jim Dougherty told The Catholic Key, “One of the most beautiful realities of our Catholic faith is our belief that all of us are called to care and be responsible for the poor, not just social service agencies or non-profit professionals.
“The Church’s commitment to feeding the poor seemed to us at St. Louis to be a perfect opportunity to roll out ‘Soul Food for the Soul’,” Dougherty said. The new program adds expands the traditional parish Lenten fish fry by sharing it with a community soup kitchen. “Soul” gets added by St. Louis parish’s famous choir. The first “Soul Food for the Soul” event was held at St. James Place community kitchen.
The partnership between St. Thomas More and St. Louis began around 1998 when Father Don Farnan started the Upper Room at St. Louis Parish. Shortly after that, St. Thomas More adopted St. Louis as a Sister Parish, said Jerry McEvoy of the Upper Room. “We have had numerous parish interactions over the years,” Dougherty said, “including pastor exchanges, choir exchanges, and working together on the annual Jazz Barbecue at St. Thomas More. The Upper Room has expanded and helped in the development of the Swope Renaissance Corridor, a remarkable association of tutoring and after school support services for central city youth.”
The Soul Food project sounded good, but needed financial assistance, so around the beginning of February, Dougherty sent a notice to St. Thomas More Parish for insertion into the bulletin. The notice explained the ministry and asked for help. Donations started coming in and by Ash Wednesday, $2,600 had been received for the first Soul Food for the Soul dinner at St. James Community Kitchen.
March 23 was a busy day at St. Louis Parish. Parish volunteers gathered that morning to prepare fried catfish, meatless spaghetti, and coleslaw and brought in a mountain of desserts. The parish Catfish Fryday began at 11 a.m., and, as about 1,000 people had attended the Fryday March 3, and 4, they were expecting about 1,100 -1,200 that weekend. The cooks were also planning to prepare an additional 320 meals to take to St. James Community Kitchen. Dinner there begins at 4:30 p.m.
Many of the volunteers at St. Louis Parish have been doing this for years. Ed Edwin has coordinated the fundraisers, especially the Lenten fish and October steak fries, for 33 years. He figures out everything that is needed and how much, and does the purchasing. All the donations went into the parish budget, and will be used to pay the suppliers.
Beverly Henry, dessert chairman, counts more than 20 years volunteering at the parish Catfish Frydays. “I’ve been working with some of these ladies for a long time,” she said. They’re all dependable and that’s good! I have to make sure we have enough desserts to accommodate all the people at these two-day fries. I talk to parishioners to make sure there’s a good variety.”
Delores Lee, who serves on the parish finance committee, said it was rewarding to volunteer, which she has done for more than 20 years. “It’s a lot of work but we have a lot of fun doing it,” she said.
Ken Waitzmann, a 68-year St. Louis parishioner, began volunteering in 1981 with the fish fry crews. I generally do everything, he said. “I order supplies, inventory what’s left and store what can be stored, like canned goods. I do a lot of work on the steam table.”
He worked while he talked, wrapping foil around big aluminum trays. “Years ago, we had a wild game dinner, but we just didn’t have the man power to keep it going. Then in 1981, our Men’s Club got together and went to the pastor to borrow $500 to hold a steak fry. We made enough that time to pay him back. For a couple of years we had the steak fry either here at St. Louis or at Swope Park or Longview Lake. When they got profitable, we added fish fries. I like them both!”
The proceeds from the fish and steak fries have bought new vinyl windows for the rectory and added to the general fund, Waitzmann said.
Spaghetti chef, sous chef and BIG chef Curtis Jones started cooking at 8 a.m. that morning, and even some the night before. “We start getting ready a long time in advance,” he said. “We get bids from suppliers, round up volunteers and let people know. I enjoy doing this. Sometimes it’s hectic and sometimes we need more help, but it’s worth it.”
Like Waitzmann, Jones worked as he talked. “Sometimes it’s a lot of work, and we fuss about it when we’re tired. But next year we’ll be right back, doing it again. We want everybody who comes in those doors to be happy when they leave,” he said. “Some people ask who’s cooking, and they won’t come in if it’s not Curt.” Nods from several heads accompanied his remark. Jones, a retired home remodeler, has been cooking spaghetti for the fish fries for 30 years.
Although it would be a long day for the volunteers, “from morning till night, I feel good about doing this, honestly,” Edwin said. “I have the talent to do it well, and I want to share what talents God gives me.”
Dougherty and several others loaded fried catfish, coleslaw, spaghetti, and desserts into their cars and took it all to St James Food Kitchen at 39th and Troost. Volunteers from St. Thomas More Parish awaited them. Kathleen Brosnahan smilingly gave everyone a job, whether it was serving, drying trays and glasses, or cleaning tables. John Redmond and his daughter Jennifer, and Kathy Green dished up the food. Dougherty, David Butel and Phil Paschang took turns drying and stacking trays, clearing tables and replenishing food. Brosnahan took charge of the washing up.
In the smaller dining area off the Bill Waris Dining Room, the St. Louis Choir arranged folding chairs and sat down. Led by Marilyn Hardy, Earl Baker, Jr., Gwen Bowie, Rosalind Bartlett, Gilbert Sexton, Jackie White, Jamie Braden and George Kendzora began singing, “Jesus, Jesus” a cappella. Hardy apologized for not bringing a piano, and one of the diners called out, “So? God didn’t have no piano!”
That night, more than 300 people left St. James Place, feeling full and happy. God may not have had a piano, but he had willing helpers from St. Louis and St. Thomas More parishes.