Faith and Fellowship

A Heart for Service

A conversation with Jennifer Franco at Mary, Mother of God Parish’s Soup Kitchen

Jennifer Franco, the Coordinator of Outreach Volunteers at Mary, Mother of God Parish, has been overseeing the soup kitchen at St. Thomas of Canterbury Church every Tuesday and Friday from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. This remarkable ministry, a neighborhood fixture for an impressive forty-five years, is a testament to its enduring commitment to the community.

Q: What inspired you to get involved in this ministry?

Jennifer Franco: “My former pastor, Father Bob Cook, asked me to serve in this role. I was hired in December 2020 during the height of the pandemic. I facilitate the coordination of volunteers, work with outside institutions, and help make things run smoothly. I work with a core group of volunteers of fifteen to twenty people. The soup kitchen regularly serves approximately 120 people on Tuesdays and Fridays throughout the year.”

“We rely on God's provisions for what we serve; the cooks know what they will do depending on what is available. We typically have two big pots of soup (500+ servings per night). People take soup home to enjoy more than just one meal. We serve salad, bread with butter, and desserts when available. We also provide guests with a cold bag of food to-go for additional meals.”

Q: Can you share a specific story of how your ministry has positively impacted someone's life?

JF: “I will share a story from Dorsey Jastrebski, a twenty-five-year volunteer at the soup kitchen. Years ago, a guy came to the kitchen regularly, and then, like so many guests, he stopped coming. Years later, he returned and told Jastrebski, "You saved my life. I was in a really low place, homeless, living on the street and contemplating suicide. I told myself that if I go to the soup kitchen and one person smiles at me, I won't do this. When he returned years later he was working and had a place to live.”

Q: What has been the most rewarding moment in your ministry this past year?

JF: “Seeing young people engaged in service -- the students we have from various high schools, Loyola University Chicago, and Loyola Academy want to come back to volunteer and make an impact that is longer than just their time there. The ones who come back are from Loyola University Chicago and are returning over summer break. The soup kitchen has had a significant impact on their life, and they tell us how they will miss it. When we have extra volunteers staffed, they are able to sit down and eat dinner with the guests, and both volunteers and guests benefit from this interaction.”

Q: What unmet needs in your community are you most passionate about addressing?

JF: “It goes far beyond the food, showing people they have dignity.  Our guests need to know that people see them and learn their names. One guy who was a regular encountered a volunteer who said, "I know you like a mug full of coffee before you leave," the guest told the volunteer, "You see me" – they just want to talk and feel seen. It’s important to let them know they matter, God loves them. This is a safe place to come where friends are.”

Q: How has working in this ministry affected your own faith and spiritual life?

JF: “In so many ways, I will figure out more years later, I am learning to practice the virtue of Charity—trying to be open to grace. There are three areas in particular I have noticed:

  1. Knowing that you impact people the most when working with people one-on-one. This work is so much more about people being seen despite material needs – learning how to broaden this out in my life.
  2. Getting beyond appearances, seeing the distressing disguise of Jesus in the poor, as Mother Teresa said, and working beyond your initial reaction, being open to charity.
  3. Embracing working together as a group for the good of other people and how this can heal division, bring us all together for the volunteers as much as it is for the guests, and seeing dignity despite differences.”

Jennifer Franco’s dedication to the Mary, Mother of God Parish Soup Kitchen is a testament to the power of service, faith, and community. Her journey, along with the stories of those she has impacted, highlights the profound difference that compassion and commitment can make in the lives of others.

“I have been overwhelmed and surprised by what God can do if you let go and see where he leads you. I had everything planned out, and nothing happened the way I wanted it to in my life, but the beauty of humanity is that there is so much good. Let God show you where he wants to put you and fulfill desires you didn't know you had. I was grateful for the opportunity and the grace to see what would happen.”

The soup kitchen serves every Tuesday and Friday at St. Thomas of Canterbury Church (4827 N. Kenmore, Chicago, IL 60640) from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Food/item donations can be dropped off at the St. Thomas of Canterbury rectory (4833 N. Kenmore) on Tuesdays and Friday from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

You can check on their wish list here or purchase items directly from Amazon or at any other store and ship them to the parish main office – Mary, Mother of God Parish (1220 W. Catalpa).