PHILADELPHIA — Christmas in a soup kitchen is always bittersweet. It is a time when the poor and the homeless come together for companionship, special meals, Mass, Christmas music and a general feeling of joy — even some gifts.
St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia not only gave gifts, but received them, too, in the guests who came to celebrate Christmas in some way.
The number of guests served by the inn last holiday season was between 350 and 400 a day. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the inn estimates serving 7,500 hundred meals. Requests for blankets, toys, food and monetary help with utilities also soared.
Contrary to expectations, donations held steady. The inn staff, friars and volunteers from the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry (FVM) worked feverishly at the end of the year, accepting donations, cards and letters, and accommodating the pressing numbers who came for food and holiday needs.
The inn also held a Christmas party for children, organized by FVM volunteers Katelyn Bagtaz, Noé Granados and Amanda Lengauer. The food was donated by employees of nearby Temple University. Several hospitals, parishes and businesses also collected clothing, food, candy, gifts and toys, including a four-foot Santa made of chocolate.
On Christmas Day, a musical trio from New Jersey sang Christmas songs throughout the meal, occasionally inviting guests to lead the singing.
All the festivities at the inn gave the guests a small sense of hope, love and peace, even for a day.
Shown in the photo above is FVM Katelyn Bagtaz with a young guest at the Christmas party.
— Fr. Michael is guardian of Juniper Friary in Philadelphia.