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Friday, November 11, 2011

Clare House News

by Tina Sipula

Part of the reason I stay at this ministry for over 33 years is that nearly every day there is a moment that takes my breath away and I am in tears in wonder and surprise. Today it came when Elmer popped the side door open and in his weak 73 year old breath, hollered, “Tina, got the picture yet?” Last week, at the soup kitchen, I asked Elmer if I could take his photo for the newsletter, and promised him I would get him a copy. “No one ever took my picture before,” was his reply. I totally forgot about it until he appeared in his childlike state while I was cooking butternut squash soup this morning. I slung my kitchen towel over my shoulder, slid two copies of his photo in a baggie and hurried to the door. “Here you go, Elmer.” His face lit up as he grabbed them from me and stuffed them into his pocket. “My first picture,” he whispered, and my knees gave and tears came to my eyes. Sometimes I just have to sit down and take it all in.

For the next two months, I’ll have to sit when I can, as the food drive will be in full swing by the time you read this. Our goal is to try to raise 8 semi-truck loads of food before Thanksgiving, and pray that will be enough to keep our doors open for the coming year. The unemployment rate has never been so high for so long since the Great Depression, and based on the number of people in our line and at the soup kitchen, things are not getting any better. Today we handed out around 100 bags of food, and sometimes at the soup kitchen, we serve over 100 for lunch. The food drive is a sponsored by Dan O’Brien, from Extreme Motors, Radio Bloomington and both Schnuck’s Supermarkets. It takes over 200 volunteers to help gather the food, sort it and box it for the coming year (see Mike Marvin’s article), and we need lots of help. If you can give even an hour a week for the month of November, please call Mike at: 829-1518.

Many thanks to all who donated garden produce this summer, and especially to Jacob’s Well Church and our dear, Verneal Frank, who worked in their community garden and brought us their bounty each week. I was able to can tomatoes, pears, peaches, pickles and peppers this year.

Our soup kitchen celebrated its 10
th anniversary at St. Mary’s Church this past October. (“Loaves and Fishes” was at Holy Trinity Parish Center from 1983-2001.) We gathered at Reality Bites restaurant for food and drinks and trivia fun remembering our decade of serving together. Several of our volunteers have chosen to retire after their 10 years at “Loaves and Fishes,” mostly due to health reasons. We are particularly in need of help on Tuesdays from 8:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m., so if you would like to join us in the fun, please call Clare House at 828-4035.

As we approach Thanksgiving, we have much to be grateful for here at Clare House and at Loaves and Fishes. Mostly, we thank you for your gift of love and support so we are able to continue to serve our many brothers and sisters who come to us each day.

Tina Sipula

Love is a matter of the will…If you will to love someone (even the most repulsive and wicked), and try to serve him as an expression of that love – then you will soon come to feel love. And God will hear your prayers.” Dorothy Day


The Diwali Food Drive in the Twin Cities, organized by SEWA INTERNATIONAL, with the active participation from the Indian community of Bloomington- Normal has become an annual event of community’s calendar.  Continuing the tradition for the Sixth year, and as part of 2011 Annual Diwali food drive, Non-perishable Food collection from the community was scheduled from Oct 1st to Oct 23, 2011. Bottom photo, below, Tina Sipula, gratefully receives their generous donations to the Clare House.

A Message From The Scribes

by Jan Schrad and Sally Heerdt

Every Wednesday morning we look forward to coming to Clare House. We have the pleasure and fun of greeting people at the door, answering the phone and writing thank you cards. It is a joy to respond to those who have given, letting them know how much we appreciate and depend upon their generosity. Jan has been at Clare House 7 years, Sally for 10 years. Coming to Clare House gives meaning to our lives and therefore we are looking forward to many more years as the Clare House Scribes!!

Sister Glenda Bourgeois, (left), Jan Schrad (at back), Sally Heerdt (front right)

What Do the Volunteers Do?

By Sharon Peterson

I'm a Wednesday morning volunteer at Clare House and I'd like to describe what we do when we're "on duty" for the day. I'm one of the four to seven people who show up Wednesday mornings at 9:00 am to help in the basement. Downstairs the food is stored that is sacked up for the grocery bags given away to our clients on Wednesday and Friday afternoons at 1:00. There is a front and a back storage room downstairs and our first order of the day is to start in on filling the front shelves to be ready for the baggers that evening - another crew of volunteers who do the job of filling the sacks with a healthy variety of foodstuffs.

The front shelves are a bit like grocery store shelves in that they are divided up into sections: canned vegetables, fruits, protein items, soups, and dry products (cereal, pasta items, etc.). We don't take in any fresh meat or frozen goods as we have no room to store them. Along the wall to the left of this shelf is an area where we keep diapers, baby wipes, and hygiene and toiletry products. On the other side wall are shelves of pre-sorted dated products ready to fill the main center shelf as it empties out. Before anything goes on the shelves it must be checked by one of us volunteers to make sure the item is not out of date; this is done by reading the "freshness" or "use by" codes printed on the product. Unfortunately, if it is out of date or already opened up the item must be tossed out. As items are donated they are brought to the front area, where they are checked and shelved; the back room storage area is where the food that is donated at the annual Fall Fundraiser for Clare House is brought in in boxes (divided into those shelf categories mentioned earlier) and stored to be used as we need it to fill the front shelves. Some days when we arrive we need to go straight to the back room to get food to fill the front shelves - and again, the boxes must be opened and date checked before they are used. Our work is usually divided between going through boxes from the back or checking foods that are brought in that day.

When we hear the side doorbell buzz that signals the best part of our work because it means someone is there (the hours are 9:00 to 11:00 on Wednesdays) who has a donation to give. The donation may be from a church group, it may be a single person or family, a business firm or an organization, school groups from pre-school up to college age, or any other interested party. Yesterday I met with a family of five children, each carrying a plastic bag of articles we could use. When you have the opportunity to meet face to face and talk with people who are truly God's angels in helping others it is a blessing and example for each of us volunteers.

At noon we take a break and head upstairs for a wonderful lunch that Tina has made for all of us, and then we start bringing up the assorted diapers, bags of baby food, plus the baby formula and wipes that will be handed out as requested when the grocery bags are distributed. At 1:00, when the side door opens, we volunteers line up on the steps from the basement and the sacks are hoisted up from person to person to be given out at the door. By 1:30 we are usually finished. Any leftover items are stored once again in the basement - and each of the volunteers is done for the day. Wednesday is a highlight of the week for me - getting to see and visit with co-workers as we sort and store and carry donated items to the basement, sharing a meal at Tina's table, and meeting with all the good-hearted persons who come to the side door - both to give and to receive.  


By Marilyn Freese

I walk in.....It's warm when it's cold outside; cool when it's hot. It's a place of comfort. I see heads bent in busy conversation or eagerly eating. The place is abuzz! It's bright; it's light. I'm in a place I love to go: the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen.

I go every Thursday I am able. I love the people I work with and the guests we serve. The guests seem happy to be there. Some come and efficiently finish their meal and leave, but there are others who come early and stay late. They not only find food for their bodies but food for their souls. That "soul food" comes in the form of easy and safe social activity with folks they are comfortable being around and with sharing their day's, week's activity. There's Darrell, a man of numbers, who reminds us weekly of how many days to his birthday; how many days until Thanksgiving, Christmas. He spends time visiting with the kitchen helpers when he's finally finished eating. And then there's Elmer who is eager to help with the clean-up. I'm never quite sure what he's saying but he's surely enthusiastic and feels he is really helping to do his part to keep the Soup Kitchen clean-up efficient and quick. And just as quickly as he appears, he's gone again. I say he is like a phantom. There are so many interesting guests too numerous to mention in a short article. Lovely folks, all.

I could wax on and on about the people who work in the kitchen but suffice to say, they are kind, hardworking, and a whole lot of FUN. They steadfastly come early and prepare the lunchtime meal—always lovingly prepared. Angels of the kitchen whether they are cooking, cleaning, filling trays, or serving the guests in the dining room.

I know, being one of the cleaners, that I am helped and am fed as much as, if not more than, those who are our guests. It's that "soul food" kind of thing. God Bless all those at the Soup Kitchen. And congratulations on 10 wonderful years!!!


Contributed by
Sister Glenda Bourgeois, O.S.U.

I received a post card from the Nobel Peace Center that has found its place on the front of my refrigerator. I see it every day and seek inspiration from one of the meaningful quotes of Nobel Prize winners. Each quote speaks to me about the spirit of Clare House. I would like to share this gift with you, hoping that you too will be inspired and experience peace.

Please use your liberty to promote ours. AUNG SAN SUU KYII

The opposite of love is not hate, its indifference.

It often takes more courage to change ones opinion than to
keep it.

We will not learn to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.

Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.

A person is a person because he recognizes others as persons.

Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.

Let us be patient with one another. And even patient with ourselves. We have a long, long way to go.

We must accept finite disappointments, but never lose infinite hope.

Organized Chaos

by Mike Marvin

Each November, for the past 17 years, two familiar voices in our community are heard on the radio promoting the annual “Clare House Food Drive.” They are Tina Sipula, founder of Clare House and Dan O’Brien, owner of Extreme Motors. This ‘five-week’ annual event provides the lion’s share of food distributed, throughout the year at Clare House, to the neediest residents of this community. At some point in the radio interview, Tina says, “…if you wish to learn more or get involved, call 829-1518.” That’s my phone number!
The annual Clare House Food Drive involves a significant number of people, more than you might imagine! Most of them work behind the scenes. I actually became involved about 4 years ago, when in this very newsletter Tina was looking for someone to take over the responsibility of coordinating volunteers. Something compelled me to contact her and find out more about this aspect of the food drive and at the end of our conversation, I agreed to take it on.
I learned that everything collected, at Schnucks and other locales, is brought weekly to a local warehouse in huge, oversized containers called ‘gaylords.’ What’s a Gaylord, you ask? Essentially, it is a very large corrugated cardboard box. They are square and some stand almost five feet high. (As we get nearer the bottom, young children will actually climb into them to hand the bags of food out to others.) Every item must be sorted into different categories and packed into specially sized boxes. These boxes are then stacked in groups of thirty-six, palletized, and taken to a different warehouse to be stored until needed at Clare House. I didn’t truly comprehend, at the time, how all of that was accomplished. But, I was about to.
The area of the warehouse where the sorting is done consists simply of several “cafeteria style” tables and a skate wheel conveyor. There are two tables per category; each labeled with one of nine different categories. The categories are Cereal, Fruit, Protein, Pasta, Soup, Vegetables, Paper, Baby, and Miscellaneous. The conveyor runs down the middle of the area, with the tables lined up on both sides and the huge gaylords outside of them. Food is taken from the gaylords and placed on the appropriate table. Like items are boxed, placed on the conveyor, and slid to one end of the area to be stacked.
On any of the designated evening, 70 to 80 volunteers come to do the sorting and boxing. People of all ages; individuals, couples, friends, high school and college students, business, social, fraternal, prayer, athletic, and scouting groups, even entire families come to help.
Some of the volunteers (sorters) remove random bags of groceries from the gaylords, separating them by category, and placing individual items on the appropriate tables. At each table other volunteers (boxers) fill, label, and seal the boxes. Then they slide them down the conveyor. At the end of the conveyor, other volunteers build the stacks.
     The area where the work takes place is about the size of a three car garage. The tables are inches away from the conveyor, and the gaylords that surround the area are no more than ten to twelve feet away from the tables. Now, place eighty people into that mix and it becomes extremely congested. Then consider that almost everyone is moving constantly back and forth, each with a different destination. You frequently will hear someone say “excuse or pardon me.” But you also hear laughter and see a lot of smiles. When I step back occasionally and watch for a moment, it looks somewhat like a dance or ballet, but at the tempo of “river dance” without the discipline or precision. In truth, it probably more closely resembles a “swarm of bees.” This is why I refer to it as organized chaos! But in this instance, it is good chaos, because it serves a greater purpose. Each gaylord will generate 1.5 to 2 pallets of sorted food. Volunteers assemble, on average, 525 to 550 boxes of sorted food per night. At 36 boxes per pallet, that comes out to between 14 to 15 pallets per night. The last three food drives have generated 100 or more pallets of food each year.
     You may wonder how much time it takes to do all this. Actually, it is slightly less than an hour on most evenings; and that is because of the dedication and determination of our volunteers. This has been the most inspiring thing for me. Not how so much is accomplished in so little time, but that there are so many generous people in this community who volunteer their time, year after year, to help in this worthy undertaking.
     And that, in a nutshell, is the real story! It is the story of people giving of themselves, asking for nothing and expecting nothing in return. Simply being a part of something important, worthwhile and necessary. I take no credit for this, because it is not the result of anything I do. I will let you in on a secret. I simply pray and ask God to provide those needed to get the work at hand accomplished each night, and He has never failed to answer that prayer and never will. At the conclusion of each evening, I thank the volunteers for being such an important part of this good work. As I do this, I feel very humbled and thankful to Our Lord for bringing these wonderful people together in this essential work for Clare House. For they are truly doing God’s work! “… and they will ask, When did I see you hungry Lord and feed you?” And He will remember!