Twenty six years ago, the Zion Lutheran Church on Fourth Avenue and 63rd Street, Bay Ridge, opened its doors to welcome guests coming for a meal. Joe Duerr from St. Andrew the Apostle Church and Jean De Gennaro from Lutheran Zion Church were aware of the needs of neighborhood people and, impelled by Christ’s instruction to feed the hungry, had come together to start a Saturday program offering salads and a hot meal for 40 to 60 guests.
As word of their hospitality spread, people from Brooklyn were joined by some who travelled from Manhattan. Some came because they were hungry and homeless. Others, though not homeless, came to socialize because they were hungry for food and companionship.
As in the case of so many voluntary service entities, Zion Church depended on financial donations and food supplies. St. Andrew’s St. Vincent de Paul Society provided help. Local Lutheran, Presbyterian, Christian Orthodox and other Christian churches pitched in as well.
Volunteers increased to meet the needs. Every Saturday morning at eight, Grace Sapienza, a parishioner at St. Andrew’s, drove Jean to purchase paper goods and food needed for the day’s guests. Year after year, the volunteers worked, and the guests arrived. Then, a few months ago, to everyone’s dismay, Lutheran Zion’s pastor, Diane Wildow was informed that the church would have to close. The dwindling congregation could no longer sustain it.
Volunteers realized that decision also signaled the end of the Ecumenical Neighborhood Lunch Program. This was not acceptable. One of the volunteers, conscious of the power of prayer and believing that very often when one door closes, another opens, paid a visit to Father Kevin Sweeney, pastor of St. Michael’s Church, also on Fourth Avenue, but in Sunset Park, 20 blocks away from Zion Lutheran.
Touched by the concern, he presented the need to his parish council, and its members, in turn, enthusiastically supported the plan to open a soup kitchen in their parish.
The organizers hope to maintain interfaith participation, including the many young volunteers from age 12 on up. Teenagers from Fort Hamilton H.S. have been especially dedicated. The adults who have run this enterprise anticipate the continued generosity of the Knights of Columbus, who provide a banquet for about 90 people, three times each year.
So while there will be sadness on Jan. 25 when the Zion Lutheran Church closes, there will be rejoicing on Feb. 1 when St. Michael’s will welcome many grateful guests.