In a humble house in the middle of one of Melbourne's trendiest suburbs, the Waterjars team visited the Missionaries of Charity. Their group was started over 60 years ago by Mother Teresa, a Nobel Prize winning nun who was well known for her charity work in India. The house we visited serves as a soup kitchen, providing meals to men in need of warm food and a welcoming community. Taking a leaf out of her book, Natalia and Thandi chose to give this experience as an early birthday present for Jim.
When we walked through the doors we were met by Srs Guadalupe and Patricia who were busy rushing around, preparing to greet their guests. In the same warm spirit they welcomed each of us in with big smiles. Sr Patricia led us into a room dedicated to the history of the Mother Teresa. It told the story of how she began as a child in Albania who loved God and wanted to serve him. Her love took the form of a long spiritual journey and a religious order of men and women who make a vow of poverty and live to serve the poor
From this room we were led into the building itself where we were given our aprons and briefed on how the evening would go. The men usually start arriving from 4pm and sit down for conversation, tea or coffee. As volunteers, we were welcome to sit with them and chat. From there we would sing a hymn, listen to a Bible passage and pray before serving the men dinner. The men served at the soup kitchen were mainly homeless men but the Sisters welcome those who are lonely and poor in spirit as well. The Sisters also have a seperate women’s shelter which provides emergency accommodation to women and mothers in need.
The volunteers who came through the door, each met with the same joy from the Sisters came from all walks of life; business professionals, students and seminarians. Just before 5pm the Sisters called in those wanting to pray while we handed out hymn books. Most of the men came inside while others chose to sit in the back veranda until meal time.
Sr Guadalupe led us in a song and then a reading from the Gospel with a short teaching about how our hope should be in Christ and the riches of heaven rather than focusing on the riches we have on earth. We joined together in prayer and after this we were ready to serve the food.
As the newest volunteers the Sisters placed us at different points of an ‘assembly line’. One person was in charge of plating the rice, meat, vegetable and dessert each. Communication was essential to make sure that all the men received a plate and those with dietary preferences could be taken into consideration. Others were assigned to wash dishes and clean up as the men ate. Though it was busy there was a spirit of love and companionship which made the work seem lighter. The Sisters took the lead in this; they knew everyone’s name and even though they had many people to supervise they knew where there was a need. And while we had never met some of the other volunteers this made it easier to help one another. There was always something to do and someone to help you do it.
Once all the men had left and everything was cleaned up we all came together for prayer. Sr Patricia led us, starting with a special prayer for Jim’s birthday and his intentions, before praying for every volunteer gathered there by name.
The same caring smile that greeted us was the same smile the Sisters gave us as they welcomed us to come again. For each of us the experience was different because of our relationship with the soup kitchen. For Jim it was his first visit. For Natalia it was her first visit in years. For Thandi it was her second visit that week. Even then, the feeling we had as we left was the same. Somehow the Sisters had created a home, not only for the men they served, but even for the people they brought in to serve.
The Missionaries of Charity Soup Kitchen can be found at 69 George St, Fitzroy and it is open from Saturday to Tuesday 4:30pm to 6pm for men aged 18+.