Ministry of Presence: St. Thomas Aquinas Parish Feeds Students at Louisiana Tech

0419tech2

by Jessica Rinaudo

The words “Ruston” and “Louisiana Tech” go hand in hand. And with only one Catholic Church in the city, St. Thomas Aquinas parishioners have taken up the task of bridging a relationship between the church and university.

In the early 90s, Father Paul Gallagher, OFM, began a “dollar lunch” program to feed any student who dropped by their student center every Wednesday. What began as a small group of 10 to 15 students has evolved into a weekly program that regularly feeds more than 100 students and faculty members.

Spearheaded by a group of volunteer parishioners including Coordinator, Pat Crawford, long time member Sandi Adams, and Brother Mike Ward, OFM, each week the parish offers a safe space, fellowship and a warm meal to students.

As the students walk through the doors of the St. Thomas Aquinas student center, their faces light up as the smell of homecooked shepherd’s pie wafts through the room. The meal and the volunteers are blessed, then students quickly seek out friends, grab a meal and a seat and enjoy fellowship with one another. Faculty members also stop by, visiting with one another and students. Other regular fixtures at the weekly meal are Louisiana Tech Campus Minister Brother Mike Ward, OFM, and St. Thomas Aquinas pastor, Fr. Tony Posadas, OFM.

“My favorite part of this program is that the students have a place to come where they can be with each other. And we provide that and provide a meal for them,” said coordinator Pat Crawford. “But we get as much out of it as they do, all of us. Most everybody has been involved with this for many years: our groups of people who cook. It’s kind of a scary thing to cook for this many people and stay within a budget. We are serving more now than ever. This year, we’ve offered 2,111 meals since September.”

Students echo Crawford’s sentiments, “We come every week that they have “Wednesday lunch.” I like the people and the community. It’s a way that the parish connects with the students, where the parishioners cook the meal and serve it and the students get to come in and get to enjoy a good home cooked meal away from home. I like interacting with the parishioners as well,” said student and Association of Catholic Tech Students member André Aguillard.

“I love being able to sit down at any table and have a great conversation and then enjoy the food and know you’re with like minded people with similar values,” added student Abby Morgan.
To make all of this happen every week takes a village both on and offsite. Pat Crawford manages the complete meal schedule for the year, calendaring meal assignments for different St. Thomas Aquinas ministry groups. Some people volunteer to bring desserts each week; some cook, but can’t serve; others show up on site to serve the students; still others are needed to take donations and keep track of how many students come through.

The result of all of this is a full meal for students including a protein, vegetable, side item, dessert and a drink – all for a minimal donation of $1. It takes a combination of budgeting, discounts and donations to make it work, but the results are undeniable.

“It’s a good witness. A good number of people who come to “Wednesday lunch” are not Catholic. So it kind of de-mystifies some of the thoughts other people have about Catholics,” said Fr. Tony Posadas, OFM, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church.

“It’s a safe place to eat. It helps students feel at home, especially when they are feeling lonely. We’ve been here since the beginning, and this is the best I’ve seen it,” said cooking volunteer, Sandi Adams. She added, “The students are so appreciative. They’ll come by, some of them, and thank us.”  Adams also said that students regularly volunteer to help with setup and clean up.
The “Wednesday lunch” program has quickly become St. Thomas’ largest outreach ministry, and one that parishioners and students alike take great pride in. No one is ever denied a meal for not having money, and often people will come through and pay for others.

“My hope is always that the students see other people doing something for them, so that when they graduate, marry, whatever they do out in the world in their jobs and communities, they’re more likely to volunteer their time,” said Crawford.

Theirs is truly a mission of presence and kindness, following the command of Jesus to love thy neighbor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>