“I don’t think it’s in the Bible that they multiplied the grilled cheese sandwiches, but that’s what happened that year,” said longtime Holy Child Jesus parishioner Joseph DePalo who attended the Richmond Hill parish’s annual post-Way of the Cross Good Friday lunch event – a tradition dating back to the 1980s.
DePalo recalled the year when Josephine “Joy” Zink, her family, members of both the youth group and Rosary Society prepared simple meatless meals of grilled cheese sandwiches for those who walked for miles in the procession. Except on this occasion, the priest extended the lunch invitation without prior notice.
“All of a sudden I ran downstairs, ‘we have to multiply the grilled cheese,’” said DePalo. “‘We got 500 people, we thought we were going to have 200,’ so they kept cooking and cooking and somehow we multiplied it and fed everybody, but it was so funny. The priest didn’t know he invited the whole church.”
For decades, parishioners from both Holy Child and Woodhaven’s St. Thomas the Apostle processed along Jamaica Ave., towards the soils of Forest Park for veneration of the cross, past the white picket fenced houses until they reached the church steps on 86th Ave. for the noon Stations of the Cross.
While many walkers might have felt the hunger pangs when observing the day’s fast, their stomachs still had to wait for at least half an hour until Jesus’ final words, “I thirst,” were acknowledged with reverence.
That’s where Josephine Zink and her family stepped in. Zink and her husband served the parish youth as sports coaches and wanted to get them involved with Good Friday activities. Even after her husband passed away, she made sure members of the youth group served everyone who stepped into the school cafeteria with coffee, tea and grilled cheese mushed in between two loaves of buttery wheat bread.
Partaking in the annual lunch this year were loads of families, spanning from neighborhood newcomers to teenagers – part of the walk since they were riding in strollers – who were helping at the tables. While volunteers and members of the Rosary Society were busy in the kitchen, one woman was missing for the first time in 38 years – Josephine Zink herself. That’s because two months prior to the annual lunch, she passed away.
“We were at her bed on her last night and her children were there and I came in with Father (Osmín) Vargas from Holy Child,” said Way of the Cross leader and close family friend Steve Pulick, “and as I walked in, she was very close to the end and I kid you not, it was this moment like she was saying to me ‘no matter what happens make sure you serve those grilled cheese sandwiches at the end of the Good Friday walk.’ So for that, we do it for Joy.”
At the first stop on the walk, Pulick or “Mr. Steve” as he is called, shared with the group that he played the music at her funeral even though he wasn’t a skilled organist. He understood how she treasured the close bonds that her parish community brought to her life. She embraced her vocation as a mother and youth leader.
“She really did love to share her faith with others and the youth of the parish,” said daughter Judy Zink. “She always wondered what it would be like to have gone on the walks because she never went on a walk. She would get here at 9:30 in the morning preparing, but she said it was worth it just to see so many other people experiencing it.”
Walking up and down the aisles, Judy served the packed cafeteria with smiles despite the tears in the beginning when she welcomed everyone to lunch.
“I’m thankful that it’s continuing,” she added. “My mom wasn’t sure when my dad passed eight years ago if she would be able to do it by herself and a lot of her friends came together and helped her. Not knowing if this year it would happen, but we all came together. She often said she didn’t know if anyone would step forward but instead of one person stepping forward to take her place, many people stepped forward to come together.”
Cups were filled, plates were empty, and amidst the faithful gathered in the Holy Child Jesus cafeteria was a framed photo of Josephine by the kitchen window – a familiar face smiling at a tradition she loved, still very much alive.