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What I Learned About Gratitude from a Day at Soul Kitchen

What+I+Learned+About+Gratitude+from+a+Day+at+Soul+Kitchen
Kate McLaughlin

The following represents the opinion of the student reporter and does not represent the views of Loyola University Maryland, the Greyhound, or Loyola University’s Department of Communication.

It’s a chilly Sunday in December and Carolyn Anewich, the lead volunteer of Soul Kitchen, is wishing community members a safe week as they pick up their free meals for Sunday night dinner. For the past seven years, Anewich has spent most Sundays inside Govans Presbyterian Church leading a group of volunteers on how to prepare meals for those who need them. Among the volunteers were Loyola students, including myself. For the very first time, I was a part of Soul Kitchen. It was a type of work I had never experienced, and it yielded a type of gratitude I had never felt before.

Soul Kitchen is a weekly program at Govan’s Church that makes hot, healthy meals for low-income families and individuals. I went to highlight the amazing work they do for the betterment of others; I stayed for the love and reward that was palpable in the air from the moment I walked in. 

When I arrived, I was greeted by Carolyn. She told me she was very excited to help me write this piece, and I told her I was very excited to volunteer. She spoke to me like I had known her my whole life, and I felt like I had known everyone around me forever. 

Anewich was described as “the Michelin Chef for the homeless” by her close friend and volunteer Jonelle Woodard.

When we walked into the kitchen, I was entranced by the aroma floating around the room. 

“We got pork roast in the oven,” Anewich said.

She went on to tell us the menu today included Korean-potato soup, butternut squash soup, and a Mediterranean inspired salad: it was time to get to work.

Kate McLaughlin

Carolyn was a gentle leader, first demonstrating and then trusting the volunteers to finish the job. We began by cutting butternut squash. Across the island, other volunteers were cutting tomatoes and broccoli. Christmas music was playing, conversation was flowing, and food was cooking. Something sparked in me that I had never quite felt before: I almost felt like The Grinch and my heart was growing three sizes, although I do not “loath entirely” like The Grinch does. 

Jonelle Woodard, a leading food donor for Soul Kitchen said it best. 

“It’s called Soul Kitchen not because it’s soul food, but because it’s really for your soul.”

I have struggled with the juxtaposing feelings of caring so deeply for different causes yet feeling helpless to the world. It was in my time at Soul Kitchen that I learned something that is both quite simple yet wildly profound, as expressed by a fellow Loyola volunteer. 

“There is so much stuff going on in the world and you can’t help everyone in the world, but you can help who you can help,” Jillian Dabrowski ‘26 said.

I had just met Jillian that morning, yet her words resonated with me so deeply that they have not left my mind. I cannot stop the war in Ukraine. I cannot resolve conflict between Israel and Palestine. I cannot take away the pain of everyone suffering in the world. But maybe I can feed some community members who really, really need it. 

Then I got defensive, “I haven’t done this yet because I’ve just been so busy!” I thought to myself. I am a full-time student and I work part-time. I had every excuse in the book to make myself feel better about not having done this before. But then I met Jonelle Woodard who so generously sat down to chat with me about her experience donating her resources and time to Soul Kitchen. 

Jonelle started donating meals in March of 2020 to elderly community members who were at higher risk of Covid-19. She shared she was determined to serve those in need even though times were tough for her, too. 

“My friend and I were unemployed and pooled our resources to bring people food,” she said. “I didn’t even have a car at the time, but I made it work.”

What was so meaningful in March 2020, and still is today, is the community that comes from these services. The meals are important for life, but the connections are important for livelihood.

“It was like a watering well. So many people needed some contact, and they didn’t have it,” she said.

The Soul Kitchen values are built upon community, respect, and love. There was not one moment in my time at Soul Kitchen where I did not feel an overwhelming sense of those beliefs. Every action that was taken, and every word that was said was done with respect.

Anewich says the key to Soul Kitchen is speaking to people with respect.

“Talking to people with respect is how we create community. It does not matter who you are or why you are here. If you come to Soul Kitchen, you will be respected,” she said.

The connections from these values were evident on every level. The volunteers were fast friends. The leaders were gentle souls. Those receiving meals were grateful with every inch of their being. They even developed friendships between one another. 

As I pulled out of Govan’s Church, legs tired and heart energized, I saw a group of four community members with their bagged meals getting situated at a picnic table. They arrived separately, but ended their day sharing a meal with one another. 

I felt uncomfortable leaving Soul Kitchen, a place where I met many with far less than I have, and driving back to Loyola. But by sitting in that unease, I found a glimpse of gratitude and I have not let go since. We are surrounded by neighborhood saints; you just have to want to see them.

Kate McLaughlin

Before my experience on this cheery Sunday, I had no clue who Carolyn Anewich or any of the volunteers at Soul Kitchen, yet they are so important. I was reminded that one of the main reasons I was drawn to Loyola was the core values that place such an emphasis on giving back and community service. Loyola not only builds leaders, but it also gives you the tools to become a neighborhood saint. 

It is my hope this holiday season and beyond that we all seek out our neighborhood saints. It is easy to be swept up into the evil of the world, but it is worthwhile to find a neighborhood saint. Before you know it, you could become one.

Soul Kitchen said, “Everyone is welcome for a free community meal every Sunday – come for a meal or to volunteer, or both!”

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