Recipe For A Healthy Community

Recipe For A Healthy Community

By Maya Parson Photography By Peter Metzger

Monroe Park Co-op in South Bend

Volunteers at Our Lady of the Road (744 S. Main St., South Bend) – a drop-in center for the homeless and others down-on-their-luck – follow this “recipe” every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, serving 100 to 150 guests fresh local food at each meal.

Our Lady also houses a food cooperative, the Monroe Park Grocery Coop, selling everything from local organic greens and handmade nut butters to Amish eggs and baked goods at reduced cost – all part of building a healthier community, one hungry belly at a time.

Our Lady of the Road began serving free breakfasts and providing showers, laundry facilities and a clothes closet to those in need in 2006. The food co-op was launched in 2011. Both were organized by the local Catholic Worker community, part of an international network of faith-based communities dedicated to nonviolence, compassion and human dignity.

Volunteers from local churches, universities and the Monroe Park neighborhood staff the kitchen and the co-op. Local farms and businesses – including Prairie Winds Farm, Hovenkamp Produce, Johnson Produce, Breadsmith and many others – donate food or sell it at reduced cost. The center also grows its own squash, tomatoes, corn and other vegetables in a Unity Garden on the property.

On the morning of one of my visits, the breakfast service was in full swing and a dozen volunteers (mostly in their 20s and early 30s) shuttled steaming plates of “egg bake” and pancakes and cups of black coffee to the crowded tables. I sat with three guests and Mary Ann Wilson, a graduate student at Notre Dame who volunteers with her husband, Ben, at the center every Saturday. Mary Ann held the couple’s infant son in her arms and chit-chatted with the guests about their lives and the food on their plates. (There was some disagreement about the presence of vegetables in the egg bake, but all agreed the food was tasty.)

Many guests, like gray-haired veteran Richard O’Grady, come three days a week for breakfast. Decked out in military fatigues in preparation for the Niles Apple Festival parade, O’Grady gabbed with friends over breakfast and told me about his service in Vietnam: He was one of the first troops deployed in the early 1960s. Today, he can’t afford to repair his home – currently deemed uninhabitable by the city – and makes do with the help of local charities.