Mary’s Table provides a hot nutritious meal six days a week, including all holidays except Christmas Day. Meals are served to all who come regardless of their situation and no identification is required. After our guests are seated, volunteers serve them their coffee, ice tea, and/or milk. There are no limits on the number of servings for each guest. They are allowed to eat as often as they wish or need to eat. Over 8,000 meals are served each month. Our food comes from many different sources: almost all of our meat is donated; some food and all staples are purchased from food banks, stores, and large corporations. We share food among our fellow non-profits when there is an overabundance.
HISTORY OF MARY’S TABLE
Mary’s Table began in 1987 when the Bishop challenged the Charismatic Renewal in the San Bernardino (California) diocese: “You have your head in the clouds but your feet are not on the ground.” In other words – do something.
Fr Rick Thomas S.J. challenged the conference of the Charismatic Renewal in 1987: “So you want to help the Poor?” Yes, they answered. He asked them two more times. They responded even louder with a resounding YES. He then proceeded to challenge them even more intensely. “All you do is talk about it but never do anything.” He placed two baskets in front of the assembly and said to them. “If you truly want to help the poor fill these basked and don’t give me a dollar. Give me what is in your purses or wallets and then we will go out into the streets and give it to the poor and the homeless.”
They began to sing with hands extended “Alabaré, alabaré.” It was at that moment that I came on the scene. My staff, was crying, “You have to stop him. He has ruined the conference. The bishop will be upset. Please stop him.” An awareness came to me. It basically said that what Fr. Rick is doing is right but the way he is doing it is wrong. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” (Ps 127:1)
“Fr Rick,” I said “you cannot do this.” He responded in his native Texas drawl: “It’s not your money.” I suggested that we buy food and groceries and pay bills and go out into the street to do that. He, a tall man, took me behind the stage curtains and prayed: “Lord Jesus Christ, please tell Mike what to do.” I was praying at the same time: “Lord Jesus Christ knows what to do. It is this guy who does not.” Finally, he said: “You are right, and that is what we will do.” It all hinged on that small voice that I heard when I had the opposite in mind.
Well, the collection from 500 people turned out to be in excess of $6,000. So the whole conference went out into the streets and gave food to the poor, homeless and needy people. People were crying and touched, and lives changed that Sunday afternoon. I thought the conference was over. But no, all 500 people came back to the arena for the concluding mass. The only drawback was that there was no collection because people had no money left. There was $1,300 left and we decided to feed the poor and homeless for all the Wednesdays of September 1987. That would be it. That, however, was not to be.
We settled on Our Lady of Fatima parish in San Bernardino which was a really poor parish where many of the homeless hung out. We decided on a lunch from 11:30 – 1:30. We started with an ordinary household refrigerator which now could not contain all the food. We were growing and growing at such a rapid growth. “Unless the Lord builds the house…” Soon our Lutheran brothers and sisters joined us but they wanted their own day, which then became Tuesday. Soon the Mondays and Thursday were also taken.
This was an all volunteer staff and the miracles and witnessing continued to happen. Our expenses were low but that soon changed. Our rent increased and we were forced to move. We had two extraordinary, very saintly, women, named Cecilia Ordáz and Julie Sánchez, who should have been retired or at least living a more leisurely life, but they had hearts for the Poor. They went to the late Fr. Rosales of Our Lady of Guadalupe and convinced him to invite us over. This happened in 1991.
The needs and demands were much greater than our resources. God always sends the right people and even people that you would never suspect. Jim and Anne Eddy, got a group together in their home and they formed the 300 club. Basically it meant that each member would contribute $300 per year for five years. That was a great and a blessed help.
We have those fundamental rules for Mary’s Table. Firstly, “do not judge.” Secondly, “try to see Jesus in those who are served.” Thirdly, “serve them.” Two other approaches were involved and that was that we be consistent. In other words, if we say we are going to be open then we have to be open. We make every effort to be there and be consistent. Also we treated the poor and the homeless with dignity and equality. They had been warned that food could not be taken out – a rule which we strictly enforce.
The bishop at the time was Bishop Philip Straling and he was very generous to us. There were two congregations of women which not only contributed sizeable donations but also were affirming and encouraging us to keep growing. They were the Sisters of the Incarnate Word, and the Sisters of Mercy of San Bernardino. The Sacred Hearts Congregation (that I belong) allowed me to be assigned to Mary’s Mercy Center all this time.
At the beginning it was simply called a ‘soup kitchen’ where a noonday meal was provided. It was more than a soup kitchen. That Psalm “unless the Lord builds the house…” kept reverberating in my heart. We needed a name, the right name that would capture what God had brought about and was continuing to nurture. Mary’s Table was the right name for it. Why? Just as Jesus was first fed at Mary’s Table in Nazareth, so, now would his beloved poor and homeless be fed in San Bernardino.
God always sent the right people. Mary Bradfield ran the newsletter which solicited funds. Yoli Catalano kept the books and finances and then there was Adrienne Schubert who basically was chief cook and bottle washer. For them Mary’s Table was a vocation, a work of God.
This vision and ministry was taking on a life of its own. A community was growing up around it. Since the Lord said “Blessed are the poor in spirit” this community was fast becoming poor in spirit and reaching out to the less fortunate. Bill and Monica White were energetic even though they were older, as was Millie DiMasi.
And then there was Joe, an ex-marine, from New England and a great help in those early years. There is a story told about Joe that in the triple digit temperatures of the San Bernardino summer he knocked at several doors asking for a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. Everyone shut their doors in his face and yelled obscenities. Finally, one lady did give him a cup of cold water at which he took twenty dollars from his pocket and gave it to her.
One of the principal guides and helps to the emergence of Mary’s Table was the scripture “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” (Ps. 127:1)