Mealtime Grace


By Linda Strowbridge  |  Photographs by Marshall Clarke

By nine o’clock on a steamy Sunday morning, a makeshift crew of professors, students, staff, and friends of Loyola University Maryland is deep into kitchen duty. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder around prep areas and an eight-burner Vulcan stove, each volunteer has a clear task: brown 100 pounds of ground beef, crumble block after block of feta cheese, or peel every clove from nearly 40 bulbs of roasted garlic. They have just two hours to prepare a Sunday dinner of fresh-made Cincinnati chili, garlic bread, Greek salad, and dessert for 300 guests.

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Trays emerge from a back room, crammed with cupcakes, cookies, fruit Danish, marble cake, and other sweets. Laughter ripples through the kitchen as the clock rushes toward mealtime and the banter jumps from literary references to economists’ foibles to the special kitchen skills acquired by playing first violin with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The guests queue. The wait staff prepares to take drink orders, plate food, and bus tables.

With obvious glee, philosopher-chef Jim Snow exclaims, “Let’s get the organization out of this chaos!”

It’s “Last Sunday” at St. Vincent de Paul’s Beans and Bread Center in Fells Point. And just as they have been doing regularly since 1992, Loyola volunteers are preparing a homestyle Sunday dinner.


The program started when Loyola’s Center for Community Service and Justice (CCSJ) asked the Beans and Bread staff, “What is the one thing you wish you could do that you can’t right now?” Beans and Bread replied it would love to expand its meal service to include the last Sunday of each month because people experiencing poverty often run out of food stamps and other assistance close to month’s end.

Affiliate philosophy professor and trained chef Jim Snow, Ph.D., and his wife, Dale Snow, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of philosophy, became mainstays of the volunteer crew a decade ago when they took over the task of organizing a monthly dinner for 300 Beans and Bread guests on a $500 budget. By forging partnerships with merchants, Loyola volunteers could offer extensive menus, such as barbequed brisket with corn bread, baked beans and coleslaw, or sausage subs with caramelized onions and peppers plus macaroni and cheese.

But the Last Sunday service began to deliver much more than a delicious meal.

“We try to make our guests feel special. Just because you are experiencing homelessness doesn’t mean you aren’t special,” said Dorothy Askew-Sawyer, director of Beans and Bread. “We treat everybody with dignity and respect. Loyola students are wonderful at doing that. They bring such energy and passion.”


In addition to chatting with guests as they wait tables, Loyola volunteers are encouraged to sit and eat and talk with guests once the lunch rush subsides.

“They’ll come back and say, ‘I just had lunch with a guy who used to be a lawyer,’” Dale Snow said. “Students have met former professional basketball players. They have met people who were at Hopkins or University of Maryland. It really has proven eye-opening for them.”

“One of the things that we do is dismantle the myth that only a certain population is at risk of falling into homelessness or being in need of food,” said Margarita Dubocq, CCSJ’s assistant director for poverty concerns and faith connections. “Students meet some very intelligent, educated people who either because of a health situation, unexpected layoff, or other problem fall through the cracks.”

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1 Comment

  • Posted by Johnny Taylor | May 1, 2011

    Wow you made my mouth water. I love Cincinnati chili. Put it on some noodles and it is fantastic. I’d love to taste some made from student chefs because most of the time I go to Skyline chili which is just a mere chain.

    Plus I think it is amazing for you guys to be able to serve 300 guests on a $500 budget. Was everything made from scratch? If we could all learn how to be that frugal we’d all really learn to save money!

    I also think the part of dismantling the “stigma” of the common people who fall into needing food was interesting. I’ve known people that lived in a $1 million dollar home who lost their business and were in need for food.

    Really cool read.

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