Rosemary Mueller was at Mass when she heard the Responsorial Psalm:
The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
“In my heart, I asked, ‘How does He do that?’” Rosemary recalled from that day more than 40 years ago. The priest mentioned in his homily service to the poor. After seeing the need of people in the community around her parish, Sts. Peter and Paul in Soulard, Mueller knew what needed to be done.
The Meals Program at Sts. Peter and Paul has been a mainstay in the neighborhood since 1982 when Rosemary and several other women from the parish (Carol Dodge, Ann Schmidt and Mary Schultz) served hot meals over the course of a week. It eventually increased to a daily endeavor, with 20 volunteer groups from parishes, schools, businesses and family groups who now serve meals from the 2nd through the 21st of each month.
The program receives funding from the Annual Catholic Appeal.
Rosemary was a parish volunteer when the Meals Program began at Sts. Peter and Paul. She was later hired as a parish secretary and served in that role until 2010. Rosemary said she often encountered people who would come to the door looking for a bite to eat.
“We would give them a sandwich — it might be bologna or peanut butter and jelly, whatever we had,” she said. Rosemary didn’t know how many people would come for the Meals Program, but volunteers wanted to make sure as many people as possible were included.
Today, dinner is served on weeknights and lunch on weekends to men who live at Peter and Paul Community Services’ emergency shelter located in the basement of the church, and to families and individuals living in the Soulard area. Anywhere from 80 to 200 meals are served each day. (Nearby St. Vincent de Paul Parish coordinates a meals program covering the 22nd through the first of each month.)
Sts. Peter and Paul pastor Father Bruce Forman said the program is an opportunity to live the corporal works of mercy and witness to the Gospel message in which Jesus said: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for Me.”
Some live on the streets or in their cars, Father Forman said. Some are in low-income housing. Some are elderly. Some have disabilities. Some are not physically healthy. Some have dependency issues. There also are families with young children.
But Father Forman said it’s more than just about serving food. “It’s providing a safe place, conversation, a place of refuge,” he said. “When they come in and see a friendly face and someone willing to talk to them as a fellow human being, they have the opportunity to relax and spend time and share their lives with them,” he said. Seminarians from Kenrick-Glennon Seminary regularly visit with guests during dinner.
The parish offers other services during the Meals Program, noted program coordinator and parish secretary Rachel Schoenberger. Nurses from Deaconess Nurse Ministry visit twice a week to offer blood pressure checks and connect people to medical care, shelters and low-income housing, job opportunities and assistance programs.
Medical students from Saint Louis University are there once a month to offer general health check-ups and foot washings. The Lions’ Club coordinates vision screenings. Other organizations and volunteer groups provide other necessities, including coats, hygiene items, cell phones and reading glasses.
Parishioners from St. Gabriel Parish in south St. Louis have volunteered with the meals program for more than 25 years. On a recent night, volunteers served smoked chicken from Pappy’s Smokehouse, with potatoes, beans and other warm side dishes. Desserts came from the Cakery Bakery in Dogtown.
Denise Meinkoth and her sister Margie Uxa help coordinate volunteers from St. Gabriel, having taken over a “very well-oiled machine” Denise said of her predecessors. “It’s very satisfying,” she said of serving others. “I feel like these are our guests. They give us as much as we give them. We’re receiving a gift just being in their presence.”
Sts. Peter and Paul parishioner Mary Lou Bourque has helped serve meals off and on for years but became more involved in April after she retired. She, too, said the ministry is more than just offering a meal; it’s a way to show others that they are wanted and loved.
“They are part of the community,” Mary Lou said. “Frequently we have families with children, and we have a place where the families can sit. Some are people I know from church and are parishioners of ours. This is something we can give them on a regular basis that they can count on — a place that is warm and meal to eat.”
The Meals Program at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Soulard is supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal. Funding goes toward general operating expenses. Past funding has gone toward upgrades in the parish hall, which includes a commercial kitchen.
Meals are served from the second through the 21st of each month. St. Vincent de Paul Church, located nearby in south St. Louis, serves meals to those in need on the 22nd of the month through the 1st of the following month.
To learn more about the Meals Program at Sts. Peter and Paul, see www.stspeterandpaulstl.org/meal-service. To learn more about the men’s emergency shelter operated by Peter and Paul Community Services, visit ppcsinc.org.