Ministering to the Most Vulnerable During the Covid-19 Crisis
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcome me,…” –Matthew 25:35
Before the pandemic struck and mandatory lockdowns ensued, the Mother Teresa of Calcutta Dining Room in Over-the-Rhine served between 250-300 meals per day (breakfast and dinner, Monday-Friday) to some of Cincinnati’s most vulnerable urban families and individuals—including the homeless and mentally ill.
The dining room, which is under the umbrella of St. Francis Seraph Ministries, is sponsored by The Province of St. John the Baptist. It is one of their many ministries full of dedicated staff and volunteers who, with our friars, are committed to providing nourishment, comfort, and security through love to those who need it most.
When the virus hit our nation and businesses shut down, doors were closed, and people retreated to the safety and security of their homes, St. Francis Seraph Ministries immediately sprang into action, knowing that the marginalized people they serve need them more than ever. The situation was made even more urgent by the temporary closing of homeless shelters due to the inability to institute proper social distancing within them.
The St. Francis Seraph team worked tirelessly to find ways to avoid an interruption in dining services while keeping everyone safe. They immediately instituted new safety protocols, such as wearing masks, requiring social distancing while waiting in food lines, offering hand sanitizer, installing hand washing stations, and enhancing cleaning and sanitation procedures. It was determined that the dining room could no longer remain open for normal dining, so they shifted from a dine-in setting to packaging and distribution. Breakfast and a hot dinner are now provided to go. An additional daily bag lunch has been added to counter other closures in the area, and Br. Chris Meyer, OFM, facilitates a new lunch pickup on Sundays.
The staff and volunteers worked hard to seamlessly shift from their usual duties to efficiently prepping, packing, and packaging food, which starts about an hour and half before distribution begins.
Chris Schuermann, Director of St. Francis Seraph Ministries, is inspired by the devotion shown by the staff and volunteers as everyone works to continue to serve those in need in what has undoubtedly been a challenging, uncertain time for everyone.
“They are selfless heroes and angels,” Chris says. “Their undaunted courage models hope to so many of the people we serve.”
She further explains that the dining room provides more than just meals to its patrons—it is a place of solace, comfort, and community. Upon finding the dining room closed for open seating after the lockdown, a homeless man broke down, crying, “This place is my rock! I slept outside last night!”
As the fluid situation in our country and individual states changes, Chris and her team will be closely following the updates and adapting as needed. They look forward to when they can safely open again. In the meantime, the need for donations is great to keep the dining room up and running. Please visit SFSMinistries.org to learn how you can help.
Posted in: Missions