Labre Ministry Students Feed Bellies and Souls
Loyola Neighborhood News: Water Tower Campus - V3, I2
If you live or work in the Water Tower Campus neighborhood, you may have seen a cadre of Loyola students on a sincere mission of giving locally. Through Labre Ministry, a program sponsored by Campus Ministry, students form relationships with the homeless of downtown Chicago, providing both food and friendship.
Loyola students started the program in 2007 as a way to give back. Since then Labre Ministry has continued as a program of the Water Tower Campus student community.
Each week, students pack coolers full of sandwiches, fruit, granola, and even hot chocolate on cold nights. They walk the loop from the Jackson Street Red Line north along Wabash to Deleware Street and south on Michigan Avenue handing out food, getting to know the people they serve and offering prayer and companionship along the way.
Nicole Chmela, Program Director of Campus Ministry, sees the impact the program is making on the recipients and the students. “I have students who feel such affinity for many of the individuals that they actually bring food and items of necessity outside of the meal program. ‘Mike,’ is one of our regulars who is also ill from cancer. Volunteers who know and love ‘Mike’ will bring him soup or other foods because they sincerely want to help,” she says.
While offering food, the students also take information about each recipient including any special requests. Many ask for toiletry items and most simply ask for prayer.
In addition to food, Labre also offers basic toiletry items to those who need them through Loyola Gives, the university-wide holiday giving program that works with Catholic Charities to provide needed gifts for Chicago families. Labre requests and collects items like deodorant, soap, tooth paste, tooth brushes, combs, brushes and other personal items for distribution throughout the year.
Mini biographies that are written from the information collected are placed on ornaments for the Christmas tree in the Terry Student Center. Those interested in sponsoring someone can take the ornament and purchase the requested items which go directly to the person in need.
For many of Chicago’s homeless population, the street seems to be the best option. Shelters are not perceived as safe and many women and those with children avoid them. The students of Labre are often the few voices and helping hands of support and friendship participants in the program get to hear.
For students, Labre provides an outlet for those seeking service opportunities. Service-learning credit is also offered in some cases when a student seeks a deeper understanding of the social problems that contribute to homelessness.
"What is great about this program and differentiates it from a soup kitchen is that you meet people where they are, "Chmela said. "It really grounds students and teaches them to look beyond themselves, to examine the real needs of the world and reminds them in profound ways that there really is more to the world than their daily college experience."
The program is also expanding its offerings this year. The program now has a kitchen at the Terry Student Center where fresh, hot meals can be prepared for distribution. They kitchen is set to open this week.
The program is funded by the Department of Campus Ministry, the Parent Fund and through a small grant from Kraft Foods. However, donations are readily and happily accepted.
If you are interested in being a volunteer or supporter of the Labre Ministry, please contact Lisa Reitz,firstname.lastname@example.org or call (312)915-6467.
If anyone were to question whether this program makes a difference in people’s lives, just ask “Mike,” and he might tell you what he tells the program volunteers. "You want to know the best part of being homeless? It is people like you stopping during your busy day to talk to me, letting me know I am not alone. That is worth more than one million dollars,” he says.