It's not just during Christmas that homeless guests at St. André Bessette Parish get some of Portland's finest food. Bakeries, restaurants, a produce seller and a coffee company make sure that fare at the church's drop-in center is always more high cuisine than Dumpster dive.
The parish offers a warm, dry place and food six mornings and two evenings out of the week. The good eating furthers good fellowship, says Andy Noethe, pastoral associate at St. André Bessette.
"Providing quality food in a welcoming environment is what all people deserve," Noethe says. "It allows us to better celebrate the dignity of every person who comes through our doors."
Donations of food come from the downtown Marriott, Panera Community Cafe, St. Honoré Bakery, Bon Appetit at the University of Portland, and the International Culinary School. United Salad donates three to five boxes of bananas and oranges each week. Nossa Familia Coffee gives its fine grinds at a low cost.
The donations have caused a major shift in the parish's hospitality. In 2004, the parish was welcoming 30-45 people each morning, often serving cheap coffee and cookies or cupcakes. Now, the doors open to 120-180 people, frequently offering eggs, potatoes, soups, sandwiches and artisan pastries. Not only is the food tastier, but it tends to be healthier than what people in poverty can usually get, says Noethe.
Marriott donates leftovers from Thursday brunch. Parish staff or volunteers wheel a cart to and fro each week. Each Monday, Panera fills a box with baked goods to serve. St. Honoré, named after the patron saint of bakers, fills three bins with rolls, croissants and sandwiches, some of the city's most coveted morsels. They could be sold for hundreds of dollars.
"It's probably my Catholic faith and Catholic heart that goes to the one who can't good things," says Dominique Geulin, the French master baker who began St. Honoré. "There are things of business and things of the heart. Part of one's business should always make room for the heart and for someone in need."
"It's so great to utilize this food and know it's going to someplace nice," says Brian Collins, head chef at Portland Mariott City Center. Collins has worked other places where large quantities of food get pitched.
"It's just part of our mission here," says Kirk Mustain, general manager of Bon Appetit at UP, which donates a wide variety of locally sourced dishes. Founded by a university graduate, the food provider naturally has an affinity for Catholic social responsibility, Mustain explains.
"The people down there don't choose that life," he says. "The certainly shouldn't be forced to eat out of a garbage can."
"These donors help us to exist," says Joan Mayo, a volunteer who helped arrange the donations and does some of the picking up. "Instead of a day-old doughnut, you give them something rich people would eat."