Volunteers at the proto-cathedral put on Frassati suppers each week for those in need
It’s 4:50 p.m. on a Thursday at the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater in Vancouver. Volunteers running the Frassati supper for those in need offer a prayer of thanksgiving. Yet again, they have prepared a nutritious, hot meal to serve more than 200.
Welcome to the world of Frassati, a place where volunteer greeters, chefs, waiters and others serve the poor and homeless in the spirit of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. The supper is part of the downtown parish’s Pier Giorgio Agape Ministry, an outreach effort named in honor of the 24-year-old Italian man who died in 1925 from polio he likely contracted while visiting the sick. He was beatified in 1990.
Father W.R. Harris began the program in December 2012, just after being assigned as pastor to the proto-cathedral. It includes not only suppers, but also a closet for clothing distribution and a cupboard for food giveaways.
At 5 p.m., the doors open, and the guests find places among the round tables that fill the lower hall of the proto-cathedral’s grounds. Some head straight for a favorite spot. Others stop to greet friends with hugs and smiles. Some file in alone. All are looking for a chance to quell their hunger.
“Good evening, sir,” says a server. “What can I get you to drink?”
The food is served with loving concern and respect for the guests. That’s the key, said Mel Lucke, the parishioner who leads the effort.
“I believe we are doing Christ’s work by helping the needy and the homeless,” he said. “We aren’t trying to judge people and their situations. We treat them all with a great deal of respect. … We are showing that they are valid human beings.”
Lucke, a retired engineer, knows of their suffering, having endured his son’s struggle with alcoholism and early death. That changed his life, he said.
“Once I saw these people, homeless because of their addictions or suffering from things of the past, I wanted to help,” he said. “That’s why I’m so happy to work for Frassati.”
An average of 27 workers a night put on the weekly suppers. The effort draws volunteers from several parishes in the Southern Deanery, but mostly from the proto-cathedral and Our Lady of Lourdes in Vancouver. Menus change from week to week and much of the food is donated from the Oregon Food Bank. The desserts are also donated, some from the food bank and others from local bakeries.
Mary Ellis, a parishioner at the proto-cathedral, has been with the program since the first night. Her go-to menu from October to May is chili with homemade cornbread and coleslaw. We talked about her recipe, and I found it is similar to the one I’ve made for my family for years. She varies the beans — pinto, chili, black and kidney — depending on what’s on hand.
So if you make this chili, please think about the long winter ahead when those in need will struggle. I hope you’ll find a way to help relieve their suffering, whether by working in a soup kitchen or by simply praying for their wellbeing.
Chili con carne
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 pound hamburger
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 2 15-ounce cans chili beans
- 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes, drained
- salt and pepper
- Grated Monterey Jack cheese, green onions, avocado slices and sour cream for toppings
Heat oil in a large pan or Dutch oven. Sauté the onions and garlic and then fry the hamburger, adding the cumin and chili powder. Add the beans and tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and then simmer everything for an hour or so. Serve alongside the toppings.
Northwest Catholic - October 2017
Janet Cleaveland is a member of the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater in Vancouver.