August 25, 2017

An extra helping of love: Margie Pike lives the blessing of feeding the poor in a kitchen overflowing with joy

Margie Pike, right, flashes one of her trademark smiles that she has used to welcome and soothe the thousands of people who have been served at the Cathedral Kitchen in Indianapolis during her 11 years of leading the food ministry of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral Parish in Indianapolis. Here, she shares a moment in the kitchen with Linda Matheis, a volunteer from St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Margie Pike, right, flashes one of her trademark smiles that she has used to welcome and soothe the thousands of people who have been served at the Cathedral Kitchen in Indianapolis during her 11 years of leading the food ministry of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral Parish in Indianapolis. Here, she shares a moment in the kitchen with Linda Matheis, a volunteer from St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

The story of what happened after the water pipe burst tells you everything you need to know about Margie Pike’s determination to help the homeless people she serves.

The pipe broke inside the Cathedral Kitchen during a stretch of sweltering summer days in 2016, which meant there was no water with which to cook, wash dishes or flush toilets in the volunteer-driven outreach that is open every day of the year, serving meals to about 130 people daily.

“They told me I had to close the kitchen, and I said, ‘No way!’ ” recalls Pike, who has served 11 years as the volunteer director of the food ministry of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral Parish in Indianapolis.

“There’s no other place serving breakfast, and you can’t say it’s closed. So we brought the kitchen to the street that day—in the parking lot. We brought in portable toilets, and we made sandwiches, desserts and salads. And it worked out fine.”

Then Pike flashes the smile that she has used to welcome and soothe thousands of people who have lived in desperation on the streets of Indianapolis.

“We always find a way,” she says, her face beaming.

‘The dignity of every human person’

That exceptional spirit and dedication led Pike to be honored by parish and archdiocesan leaders—including Archbishop Charles C. Thompson and vicar general Msgr. William F. Stumpf—during a touching and humor‑laced recognition program on Aug. 12. While most of the program for her was planned by others, she did make one request that was close to her heart.

She asked for the same blessing she was given when she started as the director of the Cathedral Kitchen.

“It’s a blessing of the hands,” Pike says. “There’s something extraordinarily holy about being blessed to serve the poor. If you serve as a gift—out of love—you can’t do it with any strings attached. You do it because you love them.”

Pike’s love for the people she serves is easily evident to anyone who has watched her interact with the large group that comes to the soup kitchen every morning.

“Margie has a clear understanding of the dignity of every human person,” says Father Patrick Beidelman, rector of the cathedral and the person who recruited Pike to lead the kitchen.

“She sees through what many in society might find off-putting or be suspicious of, and looks at each individual with the eyes of faith. She has a clear understanding of the Gospel call for us to reach out to those around us who are poor and in need—and to do what we can to alleviate their suffering.”

Pike does it with a combination of qualities that she credits to her family and her Irish heritage, blending honesty, humor and humanity.

“Our guide is to serve Christ, but sometimes he’s pretty miserable and cranky,” she says with a smile about the people who come to the kitchen. “It’s just being non-judgmental, being kind and saying, ‘Good morning!’ Their stories are very sad and hard. But this is one place where you can come in and really be treated with dignity.”

‘She always has hope’

Pike’s emphasis on dignity and service flows from her childhood growing up in the tenements of New York City.

“She learned it from her mother, my grandmother,” says Sharon Valentine, Pike’s niece. “Her mother would give you a list of things to do for the neighbors, and you couldn’t take a nickel for it. That became the person you are. It’s a calling, and it’s infectious. In the 11 years she’s been doing this, she’s been an inspiration to so many other people. The words, ‘It can’t be done,’ aren’t in her vocabulary. She always has hope. And when you have hope, anything can be done.”

Pike also uses another family tradition to connect with the kitchen’s “guests”—the name she uses for the people she serves.

“When I was growing up, a relative would pray the rosary for me every day,” Pike recalls. “Then my mother started doing it for me. It’s wonderful to know someone is praying for you every day. That gave me so much comfort. I’ve taken up the mantle now. I tell the guests, ‘Wherever you are today, and no matter how bad the day may get, someone is praying for you.’ ”

The looks on the guests’ faces let her know how much her prayers mean to them. She’s also touched by the prayers and songs they sometimes share with her and everyone else at breakfast.

“Our guests are very spiritual,” she says. “Their cry to God comes from the heart.”

Pike embraces their tears. She also cherishes the joy and the humor she finds every day while working with her fellow volunteers at the kitchen.

‘We share parts of our lives’

“I’ve often said this would make the best comedy series,” Pike says. “We have a lot of fun and laughs together.”

That joy and camaraderie shined through on a recent morning at the Cathedral Kitchen where Pike was her usual whirlwind. She welcomed the guests, listened to them, led the prayer with them, and brought food for them to the serving lines, all the time scurrying back and forth to help and give orders to the other volunteers cooking eggs, creating salads, cutting cakes and scrubbing huge pots and pans.

As hard as Pike works and as much as she cares for everyone, she smiles just as much—a self-acknowledged “general” who never shies from the grunt work, a grandmother whose gentleness to all is matched by her willingness to laugh at herself.

She glows when she points out the cereal boxes that were part of her recognition program, cereal boxes picturing her face and one of her famous quotes, “Don’t just stand there! Find something to do!”

There’s always work to do in Pike’s world, but there’s always even more laughter, says longtime volunteer and friend, Edie Witchger. And beyond the laughter, it’s the caring that defines Pike.

“We share parts of our lives here that we don’t share with anyone else,” says Witchger, a member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis. “She always remembers all our intentions—the joys and trials of our lives. She always asks about us.”

Making a salad nearby, Regina Isenberg of St. Barnabas Parish of Indianapolis adds, “She even called me at home when my son was going through a bad illness. And she said that she and Frank [Pike’s husband and a longtime volunteer, too] were praying for us. As busy as she is, she makes you feel you’re really important to her.”

‘It has been a gift’

Frank’s health issues have led Pike to focus her care on him this year, which has led her to step down as the kitchen’s director—a job now handled by Jon Porter, another Pike admirer.

“She’s a living saint,” Porter says. “She has come in every day at six in the morning for 11 years. Her devotion to both the Benedictine spirit and to the poor and downtrodden of Indianapolis is amazing.”

She plans to serve in a more limited way at the kitchen. After all, it’s been a home for her in many ways through the 11 years, a home where she has done everything she could to help it live up to the huge sign that greets everyone there—“Christ is the center of Cathedral Kitchen.”

“I’ve loved doing this from the moment I came here,” she says. “It’s just felt right. I could live out the opportunity to feed the poor.

“Among all the suffering and sorrow, it’s just a joyful place to be. It has been a gift—absolutely a gift.”

So is Pike, who gave her heart to a kitchen and the people it serves. †

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