by Debby Denehy
It's quiet. The last diners have left the building. All the food has been put away neatly and staff workers are mopping the floors and tidying chairs in the dining hall. The 7:00 a.m. breakfast shift has ended, and one by one, the shift volunteers join their friends at a long table in the empty dining hall. They're tired. Some have a full day of classes or work ahead of them, but they're smiling in anticipation of the next phase of their fellowship.
Student volunteers gather for a period of reflection after serving breakfast to community residents in need. (l-r front) Li-Wei Yuan and Maria J. Vasquez; (l-r: back) Therese Martin (IWHS), Dr. Michael McGuire, Zach Murray, Arturo Martinez, Henry Martin, Maria D. Vasquez, B.K. DeRouen and Colette Scott.
They are Dr. Michael McGuire's dedicated volunteers. Every other Friday for the past four years, economic professors McGuire and Dr. Nursen Zanca accompany 10-15 student volunteers to serve food at the San Antonio Metropolitan Ministry -- known as the SAMM shelter -- a community service that helps people in need.
Before the sun rises, the team meets in Mission Plaza on the UIW campus and then drives in a convoy to the downtown site. They're up early and they meet on time; they don't complain. Instead, they look forward to the opportunity to help others and learn more about themselves in the process.
“It really seems to open students' minds to others' struggles and teaches them not to judge others for their circumstances,” says McGuire, who often spends volunteer nights along with his wife, Patricia Lea, serving dinner as well. They have served the St. Vincent de Paul Society of St. Peter Prince of the Apostles Catholic Church of San Antonio for several years, the parish that sponsors the shelter's dining hall.
“The St. Vincent de Paul ministry is committed to person-to-person service to the poor,” states McGuire. Since 1985, over four million meals have been served to the working poor, senior citizens and homeless families, free of charge, 365 days a year.”
The UIW team is made up of undergraduate, graduate and international students. One volunteer, Therese Martin, attends Incarnate Word High School and participates alongside her father, Henry Martin, a UIW graduate student. “I look forward to coming back each time, and Therese feels the same way. It's very meaningful for both of us, and it's something we enjoy doing together and with others,” says Martin.
“When we're done,” says McGuire, “we gather around a table in the dining hall and reflect on our experience, sharing our thoughts and feelings and the light of the Gospel. Students take turns leading prayer and facilitating discussion. Everyone participates.”
“It's an exceedingly simple formula,” he continues. “We prepare and set up the food, serve it to those in need, interact with diners, other volunteers and dining staff, and clean up afterward. Then we share, read from the Bible, and pray.”
B.K. DeRouen '07, a religious studies major who graduated in spring to begin a career in ministry says there is nothing like the fellowship of this experience. He remarked, “I've gained far more than I've given in this effort.”
Although the volunteers might change, most have returned every other Friday for a long time. The team has even formed an organization complete with officers. In April, they held their end-of-year meeting and handed out awards. Everyone was celebrated because for this group, everyone counts.