This is a very special moment for me and I want to share with you all.
This month marks my 25th Anniversary as a Sister of Mercy—my Silver Jubilee! How “blessed” I am to be able to serve and lead Loaves & Fishes. As a Sister of Mercy, a Catholic Religious Order of Nuns, we live by four vows for life: Celibacy, Poverty, Obedience and Service to our poor, sick and uneducated. Loaves & Fishes is not sponsored by the Catholic Church or by the Sisters of Mercy, but our roots are well connected.
I started volunteering back in 1985, just a few years after Loaves & Fishes opened its original Dining Room. Back then, Chris and Dan Delany, former nun and priest, and 5 volunteer groups---Catholic Workers, Catholic Charismatics, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Poverty Resistance Center, and the Sisters of Mercy; began feeding those who were hungry and homeless living on 12th Street in the downtown area.
Today, we have over 100 different Congregations from our Jewish Community, Methodist, Episcopalian, Unitarians, Baptist, Mormons, Sikhs, Muslims, and so many more! Truly, the MIRACLE of Loaves & Fishes is the many hands that serve 600 to 800 poor and homeless guests each day!
When I first came to Loaves & Fishes, like many young adults, I was trying to figure out where God was “calling” me to be in life. I had just left the Air Force after serving 7 years—including 3 years at the United Air Force Academy. I was searching for something more-- then I saw it! There was Chris Delany stirring the big pot in the kitchen and I thought to myself “I want to serve humbly like that!” Of course, I learned that it takes more than that to do God’s work!
As St. Vincent de Paul said: “The poor have much to teach you. You have much to learn from them”.
It is a humbling experience meeting a homeless person eye-to-eye here at Loaves & Fishes. Many of our guests come here broken, lonely and riveted with difficult situations—mental illnesses, addictions, no family and no home to rest their weary souls!
Who am I to say “God bless you and have a good day”? Yet when I do, often the response is: “Yes, Sister I am blessed—you have a great day!” Our homeless guests have so much faith and hope. I do believe that our guests come here because they feel “welcomed” and not “judged” by our staff and our volunteers. Our philosophy of Loaves & Fishes is based on Mathew 25: “When you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters you did it to me…for I was hungry and you fed me, homeless and you sheltered me, imprisoned and you visited me, a stranger and you welcomed me.”
In 1990, I pursued my Masters in Social Work then entered Religious Life. Even with all my education and good upbringing, I had a lot to learn in how to serve “The Loaves & Fishes Way”! It took me years to figure it out and it is quite simple: I am no worthier than my brother or sister whom I want to serve. Therefore, all I can do is meet that individual on my path as they meet me on theirs; and maybe, by the Grace of God, we can help each other. Chris & Dan Delany taught me that God “calls” each of us to help serve, whether it is an employee, Board Member, Volunteer or even a guest helping another guest—we are all called to help someone on our own path.
It has been an extraordinary 25 years! Yet I am only one servant with a wonderful team whom I would like to recognize here at Loaves & Fishes.
Our staff and volunteers are remarkable. We have grown to a 5-acre campus with 16 strong programs, 85 employees and 1,000 volunteers who serve each month:
Peace and Love,
Sister Libby Fernandez Executive Director
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