By Kaelan Vazquez
“Hello, my name is Kaelan, and I’m the Soup Kitchen Operation Coordinator for the Seton Soup Kitchen at St. Vincent de Paul Parish. We’re happy that you’re interested in volunteering.”
If you’ve ever emailed me inquiring about how to volunteer in the Soup Kitchen here at DePaul, this is usually what you would be greeted with. What does that mean and what does it entail?
I first got involved in the Soup Kitchen as I was looking for a job in order to pay for school and adult life. Little did I know how involved I would be with both the DePaul community and the members of a much broader Chicago community.
For four years, I lived out of state in New Orleans while completing my undergraduate degree. After graduating, I thought it best to come home and be with family. DePaul offered that through my graduate program and this opportunity to work in the Kitchen. I regretted not doing more to get involved in my New Orleans community while living there, and being the Kitchen Coordinator has inspired me to make up for what I did not get to do during undergrad: connect with students, community organizers, members, and citizens of the city of Chicago.
My role as the Kitchen Coordinator is very inclusive and detailed. First, I serve as Lead Volunteer several times of the week. This means that on the days that I serve in that capacity, I plan the menu for the day, manage the volunteers who come in to serve, and open/close the Kitchen. The other part of my job includes managing current volunteers and communicating with community organizations and volunteers who would like to dedicate their time in the Kitchen. This includes giving people the information about when and how we typically operate, hours of operation (8 am to 10 am, Monday-Saturday), and what service will include. Finally, my job also includes inventory and shopping for essential products to ensure that the Kitchen can operate. These products include food, dishes, utensils, and products that keep the Kitchen clean and healthy.
Primarily, the Kitchen serves a hot breakfast/morning meal that often includes a hot sandwich, soup, fruit, and dessert with coffee, tea, and water. In addition to hot meals, the Catholic Campus Ministry Social Justice and Advocacy team’s hygiene kits are distributed during meals and upon request. Other services that occur during breakfast are monthly free haircuts, free coats, and free hats and gloves during the winter. On Tuesdays, the Food Pantry operates following the closing of Kitchen service.
In undergrad, the mission of my school was “to promote a more just and humane society.” Since starting in the Soup Kitchen, that mission continues to ring true. Now, combining it with “What must be done?,” my personal mission asks and answers the question: what must be done? Promote a more just and humane society. We can do that through social justice education and work, advocacy, and service to our most vulnerable communities. I think community service, even just once, can have a profound impact on a person. It reminds us of the blessing that we have, but also connects us with those who may not have much, like people who are looking for a meal or maybe just coffee, but always some form of human interaction.
Service is important because it allows us to form connections with people you might never talk to. For students, service helps make connections not just with the people we serve, but with fellow peers. You build a new community, maybe make a new friend. Through my service, I have come to learn many of our Soup Kitchen’s guests’ names, their favorite coffee/tea order, and some of them, their life stories. There’s something humbling and human about giving back. It gives a glimpse into what it means to have human dignity, what it means to be a community, and what it means to “serve.” While there is a concrete definition of service, I also think service is how each of us personally chooses to define it because it is so personal. Service should not be forced, but fostered, encouraged, and done for reasons that make sense to your own beliefs.
The Soup Kitchen is always looking for students to volunteer. Although we are temporarily closed, students can get involved in the future by contacting me, Kaelan Vazquez, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Students are also welcome visit St. Vincent de Paul Parish and their website to learn more.