January 25, 2019

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

All the right ingredients make Soup Day a special tradition at Providence

The cafeteria staff at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville are instrumental in continuing the school’s tradition of Soup Day, an effort to help the poor and the homeless. Staff members include Lindsey Rutherford, left, Karen Hennessey, Penny Schroeder, Maria Agtuca, Donna Burke, Aggie Kiesler, Elisa Bary and Sarah Gahagen. (Submitted photo)

The cafeteria staff at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville are instrumental in continuing the school’s tradition of Soup Day, an effort to help the poor and the homeless. Staff members include Lindsey Rutherford, left, Karen Hennessey, Penny Schroeder, Maria Agtuca, Donna Burke, Aggie Kiesler, Elisa Bary and Sarah Gahagen. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

One of the foundations of Catholicism is that many people need to help in the formation of a child’s faith life.

A list that starts with parents also includes grandparents, godparents, coaches, pastors, older siblings and nearly everyone who works in the child’s Catholic school.

That foundation is at the heart of an annual tradition at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville—a special tradition that was started 23 years ago by the leader of the school’s cafeteria staff.

As the story goes, cafeteria manager Mary Ann Reed had a friend who devoted her life to helping the poor and homeless after she made a plea and a promise to God. The friend, who wasn’t able to have a child, asked that she and her husband be blessed with one. In return, she would serve the needy.

The couple had a child. And as her friend upheld her promise, Reed started Soup Day at Providence to help her. As part of Soup Day, she served a simple meal of soup to the students, with all the profits from the day going to her friend’s efforts. Reed also asked Providence students to bring canned goods and staple food items to the cafeteria, to help feed the homeless, too.

“Mary Ann started it, and it’s meant so much to all of us,” says Karen Hennessey, who worked with Reed for 16 years before Reed died in 2015. “She was special. She would always make you laugh, and her smile was contagious. She had cancer the last two years she worked here. She died two years after she left the school.”

Now the cafeteria manager, Hennessey and the other members of the lunchroom staff continue the tradition, partly in Reed’s honor and partly as a way of teaching students about the challenges of homelessness and hunger.

While soup is served during lunch, Hennessey and other members of the cafeteria staff talk to the students about how these challenges even can affect their classmates.

“We want them to know what it is like to wait in line, to maybe not eat everything you like to eat—to know that a bowl of soup might be all a kid gets each day,” Hennessey says. “They may be your neighbor or someone who sits next to you in class.”

In response to the pre-Thanksgiving effort in 2018, Soup Day raised about $1,500 that was donated to two groups that help the needy: Haven House Homeless Shelter in Jeffersonville, and In Heaven’s Eyes in New Albany. Nearly 1,500 canned goods and food staples were also distributed between Haven House and The Center for Lay Ministries in Jeffersonville.

“Every year when we do this, it’s more special,” Hennessey says. “We want the kids to know life is about community and giving back.”

There is also a year-round, under-the-radar quality to the cafeteria staff’s efforts to help people who are hungry—namely some students at Providence.

While some students benefit from a federally subsidized, free-lunch program, there are still students who deal with hunger at times. In response, teachers, staff and members of the cafeteria team at Providence have quietly contributed to the lunch accounts of such students.

“We had a boy who was eating a bologna sandwich for lunch and dinner each day,” she says. “We put money in his account so he could get what he needed to eat. The fact that we have teachers and staff members who are willing to contribute to help kids and keep their names out of it says a lot about our school.”

When money is added to a student’s account, Hennessey sends an e-mail note to the parents of the child, letting them know that extra funds have been added by “a guardian angel.”

Hennessey recalls one mother being so thankful because otherwise, she said, she would have had to choose between adding money to her child’s lunch account or paying an electric bill when her electricity was about to be turned off.

“Never once have I not received a thank you from the parents,” she says.

Then there are the moments when students become the teachers.

“One student who was on the federal-assisted lunch program brought in 40 to 50 cans in two huge bags for Soup Day. It warmed my heart that she and her mother did that because money is tight for them.”

They’re all ingredients in what makes Soup Day a special tradition at Providence, Hennessey says.

“I appreciate the feeling of just knowing you’re making a difference in someone’s life.” †

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