A stoop located at the corner of Lawrence and Jefferson streets offered some shelter from the wind and cold rain. On that stoop stood 76-year old Domingo Martinez, with a plate of hot food in his left hand and a fork in his right. That plate held sliced, hot turkey smothered in gravy along with broccoli, macaroni and cheese, baked beans and bread.
Martinez received this hot food from the Catholic Workers House, more commonly known to its community and customers as the Sister Peter Claver House. This non-profit organization run by volunteer workers, located at 430 W. Jefferson St., provides free lunches.
Joe Kalil could be seen through the Claver House’s kitchen window, stirring a large pot. Kalil has been volunteering with the Catholic Workers House for about six months. He serves lunch four of the five weekdays. Kalil has developed a relationship with his customers, calling them by name and expressing concern for a few regulars who have yet to stop by.
“Hey, is Alex coming?” Kalil asked at the window. “Where is he?”
“He’s around the corner,” one woman answered from the back of the line. “I need a plate for me and one for him.”
No questions asked, the Catholic Workers House aims to serve those in need.
Martinez, who speaks very little English, has been homeless for a little over two years. He works seven days a week for very little pay, cleaning parking lots early in the morning. Five of those days, at noon, he comes to the Claver House to eat lunch.
“They give out free food Monday to Friday,” Martinez said in Spanish. “They do it as community service. And the food is good.”
A few feet away from Martinez is a group of about 15 people. Ten of those people are standing in line, waiting to be served.
At the front of the line were Angel Rodriguez and his wife, Carol. This Northeast Philadelphia couple, both unable to work due to permanent disability, waited patiently by the propped-open kitchen window. “It gets really tough for us around the end of the month,” Rodriguez explained. “That’s when we come here.”
Kalil looked at his watch, then looked out of the window. “We usually stop serving at One,” Kalil said. “But with this many hungry people standing out here, we can’t just turn them away.”