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By: Annabelle Whitehead, MDS Senior // MDS Musings Blog

Mount de Sales students have the incredible opportunity to work at the St. Francis Inn, a restaurant-style soup kitchen, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for a week during the school year. The Inn is run by the Fransician Friars, and friars, nuns, and lay people work together to serve 300-400 guests every day. The Inn is located in Kensington, Pennsylvania, one of the poorest parts of Philadelphia. I was honored to serve at the Inn for the second time along with eight other juniors and seniors from Mount de Sales. Our time at the Inn was eye-opening and left an impact on each of our hearts. 

I applied to serve at the Inn for the first time because I have felt called to the missionary field all my life and thought the experience would help me decide if that was the right path for me. After my first week in Philadelphia, God definitely opened my eyes to a deeper understanding of service and what it entails. I had been on mission trips before, but nothing to this extent. I felt an even greater calling than before to pursue ministry. When I found out I could serve at the Inn again this year, there was no doubt in my mind whether or not I would go! That was the easiest decision I ever made.

Each morning at the Inn, we went to Mass which was a great way to rejuvenate us and prepare us for the new day. We left Mass feeling wide awake and much more connected to God and each other. We were usually pretty tired because everyday at the Inn is packed. Most nights we stayed up late telling each other about our experiences from that day or catching up on school work, but every morning we were excited to see how God would allow us to serve that day.

The mornings were busy as we prepared for the day. A few of us would go on pickups while the rest stayed to help prepare the meal. No one ever went without a job. Preparing the meal was a big job because the meal had to be cooked, deserts had to be cut, the tables had to be put out, and much more. Going on pickups is another big job because you travel to three or four different grocery stores and gather food they have donated for the Inn. Each morning we did things like bag bread, prepare toiletries, and clean the kitchen. We even tied 100 tea bags together, so it would be easier to make hot tea for the morning meal. 

Serving the meal is a much different dynamic and was my favorite part of the day because we interacted with the people we were serving and learned more about them. St. Francis Inn is different than most soup kitchens because it is restaurant style. Volunteers act as waiters and waitresses, each assigned two tables.  This format allows volunteers to converse with the guests, form relationships, and build trust overtime.

My best memories of the Inn were spent serving dinner and being a waitress! It was always a special moment whenever someone I had met the night before showed up at my table the next day. One night, a woman and her two year old son sat at my table. I could tell that she had had a rough day and her little boy was not being very easy on her. He had a lot of spunk and the most energetic personality. I sat with him and taught him how to do high fives for twenty minutes. Before they left, the woman thanked me for playing with her son and allowing her to enjoy her meal. It was very simple, but that is what she needed that day. Moments like this made my time spent at the Inn very special.

It is impossible to put into words the impact my experience at St. Francis Inn had on me. The guests at the Inn have come from broken, unimaginable places, yet they have so much joy in their hearts. I learned how to truly love and serve people. Before I went to Philadelphia, the longest I had ever interacted with a homeless person was to give them a dollar on the side of the road. Serving at the Inn opened my eyes and I learned how learn how important it is to treat people with dignity. I learned that my worst days are not that bad, that sometimes the most simple things can make an impact, and every single person is a child of God and absolutely beloved. I will forever be thankful for my time spent at the Inn and I believe the guests here had much more of an impact on me than I ever had on them. 

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Mount de Sales Academy is a private Catholic school located in Macon, GA, and serves students in Bibb, Houston, Jones, Monroe, Peach and other surrounding counties.  MDS is sponsored and inspired by the Sisters of Mercy. Since 1876, MDS has served a diverse college-preparatory community of learners—students and teachers alike—who are poised to discover, challenged to innovate, and motivated to serve.