I have been privileged to volunteer at the Peter Maurin Center for the last 8 to 10 years, generally to prepare and serve lunch on Fridays. I act as a stock boy, sous chef, a cook in training, the guy who opens forty cans for beans, potato peeler extraordinaire, a greeter of guests, a server, a dishwasher. I sweep floors and wash tables. After serving dinner and while cleaning up I and others set aside food for the Saturday's Matthew 8:20 group of volunteers.
The non-profit (501-c-3) Peter Maurin Center (PMC) is housed in two small buildings in Akron each of which is one hundred and twenty years old and constantly in need of repair. One building serves as a Community Center while the other is reserved for meal preparation and service. Between the two buildings is a community garden where vegetables are grown for us in preparing meals and for distribution to the guests. The Peter Maurin Center is a remarkable place, fully staffed by volunteers and dedicated to serving unsheltered and marginalized individuals and families in the Greater Akron area by providing prepared meals, warm clothing and friendship at its facilities and in the community. Volunteers offer spiritual and corporal works of mercy in accordance with Matthew 25:31-46 as expressed in Catholic social teaching (see the description below).
The Peter Maurin Center receives no financial support from any established funding source. The Center receives no government funding, nothing from the County of Summit nor from the City of Akron, nothing from the Mental Health Board, none from United Way, none from Catholic Charities. The Peter Maurin Center does not actively solicit donations and has no fund raising events, annual giving programs, golf outing, dinners or bake sales. The Center relies solely upon the unsolicited generosity of the community, area churches and individuals, for financial support. As Joe May, founder of the Peter Maurin Center, says when asked where money comes from to support the work of the center, "It just comes" as do volunteers and supplies of food. It sometimes seems miraculous the way resources arrive at the Peter Maurin Center. One day as I served fruit salad to the guests I realized we were going to run out of small salad bowls, not that some needed to be washed but that there were not enough salad bowls for the number of guests there that day. So, I headed to the kitchen to see what we might have in which to serve salad. As I entered the kitchen expressing my concern another volunteer handed me a box containing two dozen new bowls exactly like those we use. "These just arrived," she said. God does provide. "It just comes."
The Center is completed staffed by volunteers. There is no paid staff, no boss. But there are many volunteers. There are volunteers everywhere and they seem to come from everywhere. They are retired men and women, parishioners from several churches. Catholics, protestants and atheists work alongside religious sisters from Northfield and high school students from Walsh Jesuit and Archbishop Hoban. A group of residents from the Interval Brotherhood Home, an alcohol and drug treatment center, arrive each Tuesday and Friday to break down tables after lunch and mop floors. Volunteers sort and fold donated clothes. They serve coffee in the Community Center. They visit with guests. They distribute toiletries and bus tickets. They recognize the need of some guests for clothes and they go to the basement clothing center to find and provide what is needed, shirts, pants, socks, shoes and coats. They find and provide sleeping bags, tents and tarps, even bicycles for a few. On very cold winter nights volunteers provide a safe, warm place to sleep at the Peter Maurin Center and twice a month they staff the food pantry.
A hot lunch is served every Sunday, Tuesday and Friday and every hot meal at Peter Maurin includes soup, two entrees, vegetable, green salad, fruit salad, dessert and drink, all served on china plates. Paper or Styrofoam plates could be used and china dishes do require a crew of volunteer dish washers but the belief is that homeless men and women deserve to be treated well. Everyone deserves respect. So every meal is served on china.
Sunday lunches are provided by one of several churches, Catholic and protestant, whose volunteers are responsible for the coordination and delivery of food.
Early each Tuesday and Friday morning volunteers shop for food at the Akron Canton Food Bank. They and those of us who join them back at the Center prepare green salads and fruit salads, peel potatoes, prepare desserts, cook meatloaf, chicken, pork, hot dogs, hamburgers, vegetables and casseroles whatever is on the menu that day. We make soup and pasta and serve hearty meals to the 100-140 homeless who come for lunch each Sunday, Tuesday and Friday. Throughout the last year, when volunteers were scarce and indoor dining forbidden by the state, members of the Board debated closing the center. Volunteers objected and continued to find food which was prepared and served as hot takeout lunches, supplemented by fresh fruit and canned goods, three days a week to anyone who came to the center. Not a single lunch was missed.
Volunteers stock and manage the Saturday morning bi-weekly Food Pantry. They travel to places where the homeless gather in parks and tent cities to distribute food, clothes and other necessities.
From the smallest crumb to a pair of socks, and even a friendly face of hope, The Peter Maurin Center invites anyone who loves community to join us in doing good deeds for those in need. Every single person and effort means the world.