Tucked in her apron pocket, Joan Lennart pulled out a recipe and a small prayer card.
“The recipe is for me,” Lennart confessed. “But the prayer card is for a client here, who wanted to learn the rosary but couldn’t find it anywhere. I found it, so I hope he’s here today.”
Providing a prayer card is a small gesture, but demonstrates the spirit at St. Peter’s Kitchen in Rochester, where clients often find more than a hot meal. The ministry offers a warm respite, a sense of belonging, and an atmosphere of dignity and respect.
A retired principal from Brockport, Lennart has been a volunteer at St. Peter’s Kitchen for more than five years.
“I get emotional talking about it,” Lennart said of the kitchen. “I think of Jesus’ words, ‘Feed me.’ It’s not always about material things. People here ask for prayers or someone to listen. Everyone is so grateful. Some say it out loud, while others thank us with their eyes. I just love it here.”
Patricia Lorenzen has served as the director of St. Peter’s Kitchen for the past two years, and prior to that as codirector. Lorenzen came to St. Peter’s after working 25 years as a dental hygienist.
“I approach this work spiritually,” she said. “I wanted to do something more meaningful to me. I truly believe that when one suffers, we all suffer.”
St. Peter’s Kitchen will mark its 25th anniversary in February. The ministry provides a hot lunch to about 165 clients a day, Monday through Friday, and welcomes anyone who walks through the door. Clients include men, women and children of all ages, religions, nationalities and economic statuses.
“Since last January our numbers have been up 7 or 8 percent,” Lorenzen said. “It’s hard to say why, but we know we’re seeing more and more white-collar people coming in to supplement their situations with meals. Their neighbors probably don’t even know they are doing this. It’s a hushed thing, because they don’t want people to know they are struggling. It’s tough all around.”
St. Peter’s Kitchen operates with four paid positions and more than 170 volunteers. Its services include the hot-meal program, a clothing closet, an emergency-prescription program, a Christmas store and referring clients to other service agencies. Funding for these services is provided through private donations as well as special grants. Money from a Hunger Relief grant — which is funded in part by proceeds from the annual Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal — are specifically slated to purchase special holiday items for guests such as gloves, hats or hygiene products.
“I had never worked with the poor community before,” Lorenzen said. “It was an eye opener. Mostly, you realize they are people like everyone, but have had a different environment to grow up in. They face drugs, young motherhood and poverty. Everything is about survival from the beginning. Here, we try to be a ministry which helps improve lives rather than just gives out things.”
“We encourage everyone to be respectful of each other,” she added. “We try to keep the atmosphere calm and friendly. Most people are just looking for a place to belong. I think if we can be that even for a day that’s a service.”
Volunteer Ann Kelly of Victor agreed.
“St. Peter’s Kitchen drew me, because I love to cook. I felt I needed to use the gifts that God gave me to help serve the poor,” she said. “But I’ve definitely gotten more out of it than I’ve given. The clients and volunteers are just wonderful. There’s a real sense of family here. It’s hard to put into words.”
Being a mainstay in the neighborhood continues to be a priority. The ministry is located in a building owned by Ss. Peter and Paul Church, which recently closed and whose properties are being sold. St. Peter’s Kitchen had been a ministry of Ss. Peter and Paul but separately incorporated before the church closed. The ministry hopes that the church’s new owners will allow it to remain in its current location at 681 Brown St.
“We are committed to our service,” Lorenzen said. “We’ll just have to see how it all comes about with the sale of the property and so on. But we feel this is important work, and it must continue. I have to say that the Rochester area, between the churches, organizations and community groups, is a very generous city. That’s been a great blessing for us. Rochester is definitely aware of those less fortunate, and we are all connected. The need is constant, so that means our service must be as well.”