Four weeks ago I greeted my preschool students at my classroom door with their choice of a high-five, a handshake, or a hug. There was a feeling of uncertainty in our program as talk of countywide school closures due to COVID-19 signaled the potential for Mustard Seed to close its doors to a regular academic day. One of my students, an energetic lover of all things glue and scissors, turned 5 that day. We celebrated with a morning birthday circle and cupcakes and juice boxes brought by the birthday girl’s mom at lunchtime. It was the first and last day for my youngest student, who had recently turned 3, and I was worried his mom might be upset when she picked him up and saw his cheeks and hands stained with red dye from his celebratory cupcake.
Fast forward one week, and my classroom, along with the other four Mustard Seed classrooms, were closed. Our office remained open. Our Outreach Coordinator, Lucia, made phone calls to parents and shelters, checking in with our students, offering whatever services were available. But were they still our students? Where were the families we were unable to contact? Were they safe? How do we continue to help as the guidelines for protecting ourselves and each other from getting sick get tighter every day?
My duties as a Montessori preschool teacher at a school for children experiencing homelessness felt obsolete, and my new role became support for other programs at Loaves & Fishes still serving and meeting the survival needs of our guests in a pandemic. Mustard Seed staff began checking in with Maryhouse, Friendship Park, and the Dining Room, hoping to help. For the past few weeks, we have been supporting in any way possible. A few of us have been making hygiene kits, sorting donations, and restocking items handed to guests by gloved hands through the Maryhouse front entrance. Other staff have worked in the service center at Friendship Park and handed out lunch tickets to our guests. All of us have found ourselves prepping and serving lunch in the dining room. We have tried to be more of a help than a nuisance, and we have found ourselves in awe of the unique work and skills required of each program.
It has been in the dining room, the heartbeat of Loaves & Fishes, where my compassion and understanding of the guest has been fortified. I am struck, daily, by the resiliency of the men and women who go to sleep in a tent each night, thrown away by our society, who wake up each morning ready to live, and make their way to Loaves & Fishes for a hot meal. It has been the act of handing hot meals in a styrofoam container through a window to 400 men and women each day that has solidified my faith in the work of the saints around me and the mission of this holy place.
I am still a teacher, holding space in my heart for my students and their families. While my teaching duties are on hold, I remain committed to the philosophy and intention of Loaves & Fishes: to serve the least of these.