As part of Hunger Action Month, we’re featuring guest posts from fellow Franciscan organizations dealing with hunger in the U.S.  Today’s post comes from a Franciscan Outreach Volunteer serving at a soup kitchen in Chicago.

Franciscan Outreach Association’s Marquard Center serves dinner to roughly 100 guests every night of the year. In addition to that, we offer shower services twice a week and laundry service four days a week.Case managers are also on site and help our guests make connections to people and services that can best assist them.

In the Franciscan tradition, we view everyone who walks through our doors as guests in our home that we are to make feel as welcome and comfortable as we can. Our guests are not all homeless – though some are, they’re not all unemployed – though some are, they’re not all regulars – though some are.

Homelessness is major issue in the city of Chicago. According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, as of July 2012 there were 105,338 homeless individuals living in Chicago – up 12 percent from the 2011 analysis.

I serve at the Marquard Center as a full-time volunteer and will do so for the next year, along with five other full-time volunteers. Six other community members work at our House of Mary & Joseph, where nearly 250 men and women are housed every night of the year. We live together in intentional community on the third floor of the Marquard Center and so when we open our doors to our guests, we are literally opening up our home.

Our guests have varied backgrounds and circumstances, but the one thing all of our guests and all people everywhere share is a hunger for belonging and a need to feel at home. I have received thanks from numerous guests, not for the meal that they just ate or the laundry that I washed and folded, but for remembering their name and greeting them with a smile.

It sounds crazy to someone who has never had to be concerned with being remembered or being noticed, but knowing that someone, anyone, knows who you are and your name is a big deal to many of our guests who are used to being nameless and invisible.

Hunger comes in many forms. In the spirit of St. Francis, we strive to nourish the deepest hunger of our hearts: a hunger for belonging, a hunger for home.

One way to help alleviate hunger would of course be to volunteer at a local soup kitchen or to donate
to food drives. An easier and potentially more impactful action would be to acknowledge any homeless person you encounter, learn their name, or at the very least look them in the eye and greet them with a smile.

It seems like a simple act, but to someone who lives on the fringe and feels as if they don’t exist, a loving human encounter can mean so much.

Originally from Orange, Texas, Holly Thompson, is a Franciscan Outreach Volunteer at the Marquard Center Soup Kitchen run by Franciscan Outreach Association, a non-profit agency providing emergency and long-term services to those who are homeless, poor and marginalized in Chicago. More information on Franciscan Outreach Volunteers can be found on www.franciscanoutreachvolunteers.org.