By pouring glasses and filling plates of food for the public, Cafe Manna has created a close community of people that not only care deeply for one another, but are also full of support. It’s a place where guests and volunteers can be open and trusting, all over a meal.
Cafe Manna is an organization that prepares meals for the community and is run by St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church. The organization operates every Thursday, other than Holy Thursday and Thanksgiving, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:3.0. pm in the church’s Catholic Student Center.
According to Manager of Parish Operations, Christine Harsh, Cafe Manna was founded by Jackie Sopko in December of 2001. Sopko was inspired to found the organization because of the need she saw arise in the community due to the bad economy. Since then, it has grown from “one guest that first night to about two-hundred guests,” Harsh said.
Over the years, businesses, organizations and individuals alike have been supportive of the program. Businesses such as Little Caesar’s, Designer Desserts and local grocery stores have either donated food or sold food at a reduced price. Similarly, organizations and individuals both on and off campus have volunteered their time. Cafe Manna has evolved into a widespread project in the community that many take part in and rely on.
What makes Cafe Manna so special is that it is not just for the impoverished, but for the whole community to get together.
“Cafe Manna is open for students, it’s open for people who just want to come and share a meal with somebody, there are no financial requirements,” Harsh said. “Anybody who shows up is welcome to come and have a meal.”
Cafe Manna has become a community for the volunteers, where they not only make an impact through service, but also have the opportunity to join a community that looks out for them. This strong sense of community is apparent through the passionate way the volunteers speak.
Senior Valparaiso University student and volunteer Andrew Patterson said Cafe Manna has blessed him with so many great memories, stories and people in his life.
“I have so many people who look after me and care for me here,” Patterson said.
Cafe Manna has also affected the volunteers’ lives in other ways, by fostering inner growth and expanding their worldview.
“It’s changed my life. I think I’ve grown so much to love others and know that everyone comes from a different background,” Sophomore Maddie Mesplay said. “I’ve learned so much about all the people here that I leave on fire from this every single week. It’s the highlight of my week, I can’t imagine a Thursday without Cafe Manna because there is so much joy that Cafe Manna brings to my life.”
Patterson best explained this relationship when he said, “I have been with people who have lost loved ones and come here for comfort, I’ve been here when people announce their twenty-five years of sobriety, I have been here for countless birthdays . . . I’ve seen it all.”