Dressed in their best church clothes, small children climbed on top of their parents’ shoulders, straining to get a good view of the Yale Anti-Gravity Society as they blasted techno music and juggled bowling pins in front of the altar at St. Thomas More Chapel Saturday.
The Anti-Gravity Society was only one of many groups that performed to benefit St. Thomas More’s soup kitchen in the 11th annual “Songs for Soup.” Over 200 community members came to watch the Whiffenpoofs, Steppin’ Out, Out of the Blue and the St. Thomas More Chapel Choir perform in the benefit concert. With the help of a silent auction, the effort raised over $20,000 to support the chapel’s soup kitchen, which serves 150 to 200 community members leftovers from Commons and Pierson dining halls every Wednesday.
“I just think it was a wonderful show,” community member Michael Joyce said. “The greatest thing is knowing it goes towards the soup kitchen. I’ve worked there, and they really do a practical thing for the community.”
“Songs for Soup” was started by Yale students who were involved both in St. Thomas More and a cappella groups at Yale. Rachel McCool ’96 and Tony Vuolo ’95 brought their performing groups to the chapel 11 years ago for a benefit concert in order to raise money to buy a new oven for the soup kitchen, and the event has been a major draw for community members ever since.
“It is one of the most highly anticipated events of the year,” program director Matthew Wrather ’02 said. “Not only by the members of St. Thomas More, but also people in the community who are not involved in the Catholic Church but feel very strongly for the need for a soup kitchen.”
The soup kitchen was started 21 years ago when church leaders recognized a need to reach out to the poor and allow Yale students to interact with the community, said former Yale School of Medicine pediatric cardiologist Marie Browne, who helped start the program. Since then, a combination of Yale students and church leadership has run the program.
“It’s a funny community, a combination of people who stay on forever like me, and college students who are only here for four years,” Browne said. “We want to give them the opportunity to respond to the community.”
In addition to leftovers from Yale dining halls, the soup kitchen also serves food prepared at the church by volunteers and contributions from local stores. Dunkin’ Donuts has always donated at least one box of doughnuts for the soup kitchen’s guests, Browne said. Over the years, the soup kitchen has attracted a consistent group of community members who are homeless or have reduced circumstances.
“We get to know them,” Browne said. “They are an appreciative group of people, very responsive to the service we provide them.”
In addition to the soup kitchen, St. Thomas More has a social-justice ministry, which sponsors various community outreach programs, including Habitat for Humanity and Alternative Spring Break.
According to Wrather, community outreach is a fundamental component of Catholic teachings.
“The concern for the poor, the charity aspect of faith — It’s a very important part of church teaching, not just [for] St. Thomas More,” Wrather said.
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