Since St. Paul’s Church in Tustin started Sunday Supper to feed the hungry, it’s been like “loaves and fishes,” multiplying all the way, according to the Rev. Kay Sylvester, rector.
“One of the most basic ways to serve Christ in all people is to feed them,” she said. “After, all, it’s what Jesus did.”
In the four years since the weekly meals began, the program has engaged interfaith partners, added a grocery giveaway and expanded to provide school-year snacks for at-risk students as well as lunches and snacks during a four-and-a-half week summer session.
And “New Church” happened; a 6:30 p.m. worship service every third Sunday following the meal. “It is very Anglican in shape but the language is as inclusive as we know how to make it,” Sylvester said. “Our goal is to get participants involved as worship leaders; it’s as lay-led as we can make it.”
Sunday Supper, ‘just like family’
Long before the 5:30 p.m. Sunday Supper begins, arriving guests are greeted and seated at tables outside on St. Paul’s patio.
Volunteer Shai Sklar, 12, describes for guests Angelo and Mary Mitchell the ingredients in an “Essential” — a blend of pineapple, apple and orange juices — and the evening’s featured menu: “Salad, rolls, and a taco casserole, with ground beef or turkey, and green peas on the side. And I’ll be happy to serve you.”
What drew the Mitchells to the Sunday Supper is a roller coaster of a story, beginning in Italy where Angelo, 66, says he was born and spent ages five through 11 in an orphanage. He and Mary met years later, after he made his way to Boston where he ran the gift shop at St. Paul’s Cathedral. She was a student at Boston State College and stopped at the church to light a candle.
Things were sometimes up, sometimes down; they fell in love and married, moved to California, worked hard, bought and lost a home and spent years living in a motel. Eventually they found an affordable studio apartment and, in the local library, saw a flyer about the Sunday Supper.
Angelo made an immediate positive connection: it was “another St. Paul’s. We’ve been coming ever since. People here are really giving,” he said Aug. 10. “They go all out for you. It’s like a family here.”
Every guest — and there were at least 100 this particular Sunday, homeless and working poor individuals and families, some disabled, some lonely seniors — has a story. Taking time to hear those stories and to build relationships is a major part of what happens each week, according to the Rev. Kay Sylvester, rector.
“We serve everyone restaurant-style, because a lot of our guests are elderly and disabled and making them stand in line is just rude,” said Sylvester. “It gives the volunteers who serve them a chance to interact with them on a personal level. We’ve gotten to know them and they know us.”
‘Loaves and fishes’ feedings, partnerships
The Sunday Supper program was born four years ago after “somebody donated 750 hamburger patties to us … and a freezer,” recalled Sylvester, chuckling.
“They just arrived; nobody ordered them. We had this plenty, and we had experience” from a prior two-year partnership with Angel Food, a monthly grocery giveaway. That partnership had ended “and we were sitting around grieving the loss when somebody said, ‘We have this kitchen.’ Somebody else said, ‘There’s 750 hamburger patties, we could feed people here.’”
So they organized the first Sunday supper “and nobody came,” Sylvester recalled. “We thought, did we make a mistake? Is this really the ministry we’re called to?”
They decided to invite other communities of faith to participate, and the response was overwhelming. Current partners include Congregation B’nai Israel, the Aldersgate United Methodist Church, The River Church, Tree of Life Congregation, the Sikh Center of Orange County (SCOC), and Trinity Episcopal Church in Orange, according to Laura Siriani, St. Paul’s welcome and communications coordinator.
Anyone who shows up is fed, no questions asked, no identification required. And, with the help of the Second Harvest food bank, community grants and private donations, guests also receive a bag of groceries weekly, Siriani said.
Fresh vegetables frequently come from “Gordon’s Garden” the church’s community garden commemorating the ministry of the Rev. Canon Gordon P. Yeaton, St. Paul’s associate rector, who died in 2007.
Dr. Jasjit Singh, Sikh Center youth leader and interfaith activities chair, said the Sunday Supper program resonates with the Sikh custom of providing meals after worship “so when we heard about it we wanted to get involved.
“It’s just been a wonderful experience for all of us because we’ve had the opportunity to meet and interact with the community they’re feeding,” said Singh, a pediatrician. “It’s been a wonderful two-way street; we’ve developed such a great friendship with the people of St. Paul’s and the community.”
LEAP of Food snacks; a summer session
About a year after the Sunday Suppers began, the partners began offering a daily snack for students at St. Paul’s LEAP Learning Center. LEAP — Learning, Education, and Achievement Partners — is a 16-year-old after-school tutoring program for at-risk students that promotes academic success and encourages life-long learning. LEAP, originally a ministry of the church, has become a separate nonprofit agency.
“Peggy Catron is the driving force behind the snacks,” Siriani said. “Her vision was that they get a nutritious, protein-rich snack. Prior to that, they would get a granola bar but they still would be hungry.”
This year, the interfaith partnership embarked upon “LEAP of Food”— feeding lunch and snacks to 150 students during a four-and-a-half week summer session.
According to Catron, “These kids may have little to eat during the summer days, and our goal is to help them eat better and to learn better during the month-long summer school program.”
Inside St. Paul’s parish hall and kitchen, Congregation B’nai Israel volunteers added rolls and butter to more than a hundred plates of tossed salads, assembled plastic-ware and napkins and topped off taco casseroles with shredded cheese before popping them into the oven.
“We’ve been involved since the beginning,” said Michelle Madick, coordinator for Congregation B’nai Israel “and we involve our young people. They build relationships with the guests,” she said. “We suggest they participate as part of their mitzvah project.”
“This is just a simple way to give back to the community,” said Daniela Gruber, 27, who along with her mother Roe, sliced chocolate chip bundt cakes, lemon bars and cheesecake. “Mom and I started doing home-baked desserts because they’re way better than store-bought.”
Outside on the patio, mother and daughter Karen and Maya Jaffe offer the HaMotzi, a traditional Jewish blessing over the bread, in both Hebrew and in English: Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech haolam hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz; “Our praise to you, eternal our God, sovereign of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”
And the meal is served, restaurant style. But for guests like Kathy Frosh it is much more than a simple meal.
“My friends from the senior center are mostly here,” said Frosh, 91. “I like to visit with them.”
Her husband of 65 years, Lloyd, passed away six years ago, she said. Before they retired, the couple had operated a wholesale flower business together in San Juan Capistrano.
“I don’t have any other relatives near here,” she said. “This is like family for me. It just kind of consoles me. I have a lot of fun being with the people I know.”
And Harlan, a 63-year-old client, hugged St. Paul’s volunteer Kathy Jones, who coordinates the grocery giveaway table.
“I like it here,” he said of the Sunday meals. “I know everybody here. Supper’s good. I know a lot of people here. I’ve been homeless about 20 years, but I know I can come here.”