By Nanette Smith
As most readers will know, Bethlehem churches take turns each night serving and housing homeless men and women in the “Room at the Inn” project. On Thursday nights, Jo Trepagnier is one of those serving men at Nativity Cathedral. On December 13, what she brought for the men was not something she had made; rather it was from the Church of the Mediator, where she serves as office manager, and it was made by a handful of Raub Middle School students who attend Mediator’s after school Just For Kids program.
A favorite activity in this program is cooking in the Mediator kitchen. Usually they eat what they make. But that Thursday, volunteer Patricia Gaukler suggested the idea to the kids that they cook for the shelter . “The kids were enthusiastic about it. I told them a little about the program and let them choose what they wanted to make,” she said. They chose salad because they wanted to give the men something healthy and cupcakes “because they love to ice cakes,” Patricia said.
Next week, I interviewed two of these cooks. Sixth-grader Caridad Reyes, who likes the cooking because she wants to train to be a chef someday said, “We made food for him because it isn’t right that everyone in the world has something, and they have nothing. If homeless people don’t eat, then we should not eat either.” She looked a little sad and cast her eyes down when she said this to me. Pat had told me that she spoke to the kids carefully about the problem of homelessness and why we should care for our neighbors. It was clear that Caridad took this to heart.
A genuine story teller, the voluble sixth-grader Steven Cruz said he knows about people in need, referring to people he sees in his neighborhood. “I cook for people all the time at home,” he said. “I give poor people pancakes, sometimes pizza.” He told me that when he was a little child he almost died from a heart condition, and that was why he cares about other people “who have problems.” Like Caridad, he loves to cook, especially rice and beans; and he shared a secret with me on how to get the dish just right.
Last year, Mediator pastor, Maria Tjeltveit, helped a group of JFK young people make pies to take to the Homeless Supportive Services Christmas party in Allentown. So this is becoming sort of a tradition.
Jo told me that the food the kids made for Nativity was a big part of the meal and a big hit with the 50 or so men. I am guessing that she asked me to write this article not just to remind people of the Bethlehem homelessness project and the work done by Just for Kids, but because it is a beautiful expression of the Gospel, children—who themselves don’t have a lot--giving what they can to people with much less. They gave of their talents, time, and heart, and showed an understanding of how giving at Christmas time can truly carry the right spirit.
[Nanette Smith is a parishioner at the Church of the Mediator, Allentown]