By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
The Cathedral of the Assumption has been serving food to the needy since the days of the Great Depression. Thanks to a joint project with Catholic Charities of Louisville — the charitable services agency of the Archdiocese of Louisville — the cathedral is serving more than soup and sandwiches these days.
“Serving Hope in Bologna Alley” is the name given to the pilot program, which endeavors to provide guidance and support to people who eat lunch at the cathedral’s Sandefur Dining Hall.
The alley behind the cathedral is known as “Bologna Alley” because of the sandwiches that have become a staple in the dining room. The hungry people who come there for lunch line up in the alleyway.
The project began in September and is still very informal. But it’s running smoothly, according to Father Jeffrey Nicolas, pastor of the Cathedral of the Assumption in downtown Louisville.
Father Nicolas said the idea developed after he attended several summits about helping the needy, particularly one held about three years ago sponsored by the Coalition for the Homeless.
“I came to understand the cathedral’s place in this net of services,” he said.
The lunch program, which serves bologna sandwiches, soup and dessert every day of the week, has long been a bridge for those teetering on the edge of poverty, Father Nicolas said, but he knew that more could be done.
“You don’t have to be around lunch guests very long to know that they are in need,” he said.
Father Nicolas took the idea of a joint project to Deacon Lucio Caruso, director of mission integration at Catholic Charities of Louisville, who immediately saw the potential. “There was no argument as to how to develop the program,” said Deacon Caruso, who now oversees the project. “Father Jeff’s idea was to get to know lunch guests and find out how to give some professional support and connect them with resources,” he said.
Three people work directly with the lunch guests. They are Peggy McCarty, lead intake and referral counselor at Catholic Charities; Scott Duke, an intern for Catholic Charities and a student in the University of Louisville’s Kent School of Social Work; and Deacon Tom McNally, who leads a program at the cathedral that helps people obtain identification cards.
“We didn’t know exactly how to begin, so we left it open to see how it would go,” Deacon Caruso said. “Peggy and Scott started by just mingling with the lunch guests.”
“We just listen to them,” is how McCarty describes what she does. “They are people and they just need someone to talk to.”
McCarty described the population they serve as the “largest melting pot of people” including veterans, men, women, young adults, elderly, working poor and the mentally ill.
Duke and McCarty said their needs run the gamut — from simple requests for prayers to guidance in re-building a life after incarceration.
Lunch guests have received referrals to social service agencies, food and clothing.
McCarty and Duke also said it’s challenging to work with people at a lunch program.
“Because we have such a short time frame we have to be able to look at someone and quickly assess if they are in need,” said Duke who is a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer and a retired police officer.
Deacon Caruso explained that an initial assessment, which would usually take place during an intake counseling session, happens right in the lunch line in the form of a conversation.
“We tell them who we are, what we are doing and ask if there’s anything we can help with,” said Duke.
He and McCarty agree that teamwork is crucial to their success.
“I can get most guys to talk to me, but a man isn’t going to cry on another man’s shoulders,” said Duke, recalling an occasion when he determined that McCarty would work better with a particular client. “I called in Peggy and, next thing you know, he’s crying on her shoulders telling her everything that’s wrong.”
McCarty said that helping people recently released from prison has become a passion for her. Through the Building a Tomorrow (B.a.T.) program — started two years ago at Catholic Charities — four such men who came for lunch at the cathedral also received help to purchase work clothes. And at least one was assisted with transportation to and from work during his first month of employment, according to a story which appeared on the cathedral’s worship aid.
In the future, Father Nicolas and Deacon Caruso hope to start a monthly program in which representatives of local social service agencies would come to the cathedral and register lunch guests for services.
Since the program started in September, representatives from Assurance Wireless, Volunteers of America, the Brady Center and the United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) have come to talk to lunch guests and offer assistance.
Duke and McCarty said they are also hoping to have a prayer box installed in Bologna Alley.
Father Nicolas said he hopes to see the people who come to Bologna Alley not only “lifted to self sustainability,” but also becoming “stewards” in lifting others up.