Keeping with our Jesuit roots, the LMU community is committed to serving LA through a variety of volunteering and service efforts, partnering with local organizations that make a difference in the lives of others on the daily. One such organization is the St. Joseph Center, which aims to empower those experiencing homelessness and guide them onto a path towards healing. And much like LMU, the core of their mission is one of HOPE. In fact, we currently rank No. 3 nationally for “Students Most Engaged in Community Service,” according to The Princeton Review (2020), with Lions devoting more than 200,000 hours every year to service efforts.
I have the pleasure of serving weekly at one of St. Joseph’s posts — Bread and Roses, a café that serves those experiencing homelessness. Its restaurant-style atmosphere allows barriers to be broken down, allowing clients and the volunteers to interact on a deeper level. Moreover, this environment helps to humanize as an establishment that not only serves up great food but dignity and respect.
On Friday mornings I wake up at 8 a.m. and meet with a couple friends from Belles service organization and we make our way to the café, which is located in the nearby Venice Beach area. Upon arriving, myself and the other volunteers enter through the back door and into the kitchen, where sights, sounds and smells are already cooking. I’m usually greeted by Matty, a dishwasher in the back. He always has the most joyful smile on his face, his excitement at seeing us is always evident. We make our way to the front of the kitchen where we are greeted by Chef James and some of his students from the culinary school where he teaches. Part of what makes Bread and Roses so unique is that all of its chefs are culinary trained who volunteer their time and effort.
As I move about the dining room setting up with my fellow volunteers, we place a rose in the center of each table == a small detail that aims to remind the clients that they are entering a space where they are cared about. After the tables are set, we are briefed on the day’s activities by CJ, who is the head of Bread and Roses. He has worked dutifully at the café for years, knowing many clients by name and the type of dishes they like and don’t like. He is reliable and brings a smile to the faces of the clients that come in every week.
At 9:30 a.m. the café doors open and the clients come filing into the dining room. We then begin making our rounds serving coffee, juice, milk and hot meals to the residents. I’ve been serving at Bread and Roses for the past year and I have developed authentic relationships with many of the clients. Our conversations range from politics to studies to our hometowns to our favorite hobbies. The people at Bread and Roses Cafe have taught me to understand and value the importance of human connection and authenticity. Both are invaluable and cannot be taken for granted. At the end of the day we clean the tables, say goodbye to the clients and head back to LMU. Bread and Roses serves over 500 meals a week and I am truly blessed to be a small part of this tremendous act of service.