Breakfast on the bus with Sister Marge

by | Aug 21, 2014 | Daughters of Charity, Poverty: Analysis and Responses, Vincentian Family

featured-image-generic-daughtersIt’s a school bus that has been fitted with a small kitchen, running water and six tables. Three tables for two are on one side of the aisle and three slightly wider tables are on the other side. The Daughters of Charity are involved in the St. Vincent de Paul Mobile Kitchen.

The Daughters of Charity Archives presents  a different kind of story out of St. Louis by Bill McClellan of the St. Louis Dispatch

The story continues… Four kids can easily fit at the larger tables. That’s good because about 75 percent of the diners are kids. That’s for dinner, which is served four nights a week. Two Sundays a month, the bus comes to St. Louis to serve breakfast. The breakfast diners tend to be adults. Mostly, homeless adults.

I wrote about the bus in January of 2009. Not about the kindness — kindness doesn’t sell papers — but about the conflict about the bus. You see, the bus used to stop at Lucas Park, behind the library. Or, more to the point, across the street from the New Life Evangelistic Center.

The thinking was, if you’re going to serve breakfast to the homeless, you might as well go where the homeless are.

But by the beginning of 2009, there was a battle raging over the park. The people who had bought lofts overlooking the park wanted to return the park to what it had once been — a downtown jewel. It dated to the days when the riverfront was the engine of economic life and wealthy people had mansions on the western fringes of downtown. Amid these mansions the park featured grassy slopes leading to a reflecting pool.

Then the wealthy left and the area deteriorated. By 2009, the area was coming back. The loft-dwellers looked at the bus, and thought, why are they encouraging the homeless to congregate here?

It was an uneven fight.

So I walked over to talk to the people on the bus. Did they know they were destined to lose? I knocked at the door of the bus, and Gerry Hasenstab, who is in charge of the Feeding Ministry, looked at me and said, “Come on in and get something to eat, partner.”

I explained that I was a reporter.

That is the day I met Sister Marge. She was washing dishes on the bus.

She sent me a note last week. She is being transferred — missioned, was her word — to Philadelphia. She said she would be on the bus in St. Louis Sunday if I had a chance to stop by.

These days, the bus stops under an overpass near St. Vincent de Paul Church on 10th Street on the near south side. A fine location, I’d say. Homeless people have no trouble finding it.

I stood by the door of the bus. “Come on in and get yourself something to eat,” said Hasenstab, cheerfully.

“I’m here to see Sister Marge,” I said.

While I waited for her to take a break — she was washing dishes again — I watched the people interacting. Everybody seemed to be getting along. A lot of the diners knew each other. The servers were solicitious without being condescending. Good vibes all around.

Normally, the bus is staffed largely by volunteers, but Sunday, the staff were all Daughters of Charity. It was their way of seeing Sister Marge off. I can’t think of a more appropriate farewell.

​Bill McClellan is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Read his columns here.

For more about Sister Marge the person read the full story St. Louis Dispatch