BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
“Giving is living. If you stop wanting to give, there’s nothing more to live for.” —Audrey Hepburn
Through the open sanctuary doors at St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church on North Dearborn, you can glimpse parishioners and neighbors—from nursery school students to those over 80—dropping off bags decorated with stickers and hearts and filled with sandwiches, fresh fruit, and other goodies. Since April, almost 9000 bags have arrived, which are immediately distributed to Feed, Care, and Help the Needy, Englewood’s only soup kitchen, and the Chicago Help Initiative at Catholic Charities. Just this past week alone, 33 households dropped off almost 400 meals.
“It was only in the last couple of weeks that I stopped worrying if we could keep it going,” shares The Reverend Peggy Lo. “We started just after Easter and felt we had to address every other month its staying power. We surrendered the project to God. We put a sign out in October and many neighbors have responded. It has become a real communal project. Pods of friends work together and one grandmother Zooms with her granddaughters while they assemble their bags in their own homes. The number of children that are making sandwiches and decorating the bags is enormous—parents are teaching their children gratitude for what they have.”
It was no coincidence that the above Audrey Hepburn quote came to mind as I sat down to write this story. The heads of the sandwich program, Lo and Liz Kohlbeck, have Hepburn’s impish joy, readiness for service, and grace. My other favorite Audrey Hepburn quote surely is set in their psyches, “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands: one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”
Born in Taiwan, Reverend Lo moved to the United States as a child and says that her role as an Episcopal priest is her third career. A recent graduate of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University, she worked previously with a Buddhist charitable foundation, which connected prayer and service. Her calm sensibility every Wednesday, week after week, in making sure all bags are filled with water bottles, stapled shut, and arranged for distribution is coupled with enthusiasm when weekly totals are exceeded and gratitude for each volunteer: an email goes out that same day, praising her team for their efforts, sharing totals, and concluding with a special passage and prayer.
The sandwich lunch program is part of St. Chrysostom’s Kitchen, which has other initiatives including a monthly dinner for low income and homeless people and for permanent residents of Deborah Place, a local women’s shelter. “During the pandemic we can’t work in food assembly lines, but our ministry continues to be very practical. When we hear of the long lines around the block at Catholic Charities and we can be helping to feed those people, that is a created personal connection at a time of great distancing,” Lo says. In addition, donations for toiletries and blankets for the winter are being collected.
Co-organizer Kohlbeck relates, “I have found that those involved in feeding ministries are almost all warm and caring people who realize that we all need to play a role in making sure basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter are met. We didn‘t know how the sandwich ministry would grow. It really allows families to teach a child by example that no one should go hungry.”
Probably one the most energetic and gracious people we have ever met, Kohlbeck is also head of the Women of St. Chrysostom’s and works with the church’s funding of outreach ministries. She became involved in ministries dedicated to feeding underserved communities when she and husband Tom lived in Sheboygan.
“We fed 200 people every Saturday through a program called Our Ladies Kitchen at our church there,” she recalls. “My mentor was a woman whose son had died of AIDS and this was her way to honor him. I have always felt that no one should go without.”
The Kohlbecks work together on all of St. Chrysostom’s feeding ministries: “Tom comes from a family of five and his parents, who were both teachers, had assignments for all their kids. At church, he is the one flipping burgers, putting out and cleaning off tables for our dinner program, and is there until the last dish is put away. It’s a real partnership and we share the same values.”
For St. Chrysostom’s Church parishioners and neighbors, the sandwich ministry is proving that we don’t have to just stand aside and watch as 2020 keeps taking away sometimes what seems like just about everything. Being in the world and of the world, even during this trying year, still means those basic needs must be tackled, albeit following the distinct protocols and precautions of the pandemic.
The Reverend Wes Smedley is the Rector of St. Chrysostom’s and The Reverend Larry Green is the church deacon who develops other outreach programs throughout the year. If you are interested in being part of the sandwich program, bags with two sandwiches, a piece of fruit, and a sweet (such as a granola bar or cookies) can be dropped off Wednesdays between 7:30-9:00 a.m. at 1424 North Dearborn Parkway at the door to the church adjacent to the street. Any additional support and participation would be greatly appreciated!