October 30, 2015

Cancelled game, Providence lead to ‘banquet’ for homeless

Members of the volunteer group Beggars for the Poor serve a gourmet meal to the homeless in downtown Indianapolis on Oct. 17. The ‘banquet level’ menu became available through the generosity of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

Members of the volunteer group Beggars for the Poor serve a gourmet meal to the homeless in downtown Indianapolis on Oct. 17. The ‘banquet level’ menu became available through the generosity of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The gourmet menu was supposed to be part of a special celebration of a unique moment in the 54-year history of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis.

Instead, the roasted beef tenderloin, the hickory smoked salmon and the tempting desserts—just part of the menu—ended up being an unexpected feast for homeless people who usually don’t get many opportunities in life to celebrate.

The dramatic change in plans unfolded on Oct. 16, the day that the Bishop Chatard Trojans football team was scheduled to play its first-ever, varsity home football game on the grounds of the archdiocese’s North Deanery high school that opened in 1961.

As part of that scheduled landmark game against the team from Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, Bishop Chatard administrators had also planned a special reception—featuring the gourmet menu—inside its three-year-old, multi-sports stadium. Yet on the morning of the scheduled game, school officials received a phone call from Shortridge’s athletic director, saying its team had to forfeit the game.

As school officials worked quickly to spread the news that the game and all the festivities were canceled, there was also the concern of what to do with the catered food order.

“The food had already been prepared,” recalls Margaret Ruffing, Bishop Chatard’s director of development. “We knew we couldn’t recoup any money, but we didn’t want the food to be thrown away.”

So Ruffing contacted Leo Stenz, a longtime friend and fellow member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis who coordinates a volunteer ministry for the homeless called Beggars for the Poor. Every Saturday morning, the ministry provides clothing and a modest meal for about 200 homeless people in downtown Indianapolis.

In talking with Ruffing, Stenz wondered if the caterer would be willing to hold onto the food and keep it refrigerated until he and his fellow volunteers could pick it up early Saturday morning.

Ruffing shared that request with Matt Mills, owner of Mills Catering.

“Matt was so gracious,” Ruffing says. “He said, ‘I’ll store it overnight, heat what needs to be heated up in the morning, and deliver it.’ ”

When he arrived at work early Saturday, Mills loaded up his catering truck with the beef tenderloin, the smoked salmon, the grilled chicken yakitori, the cheesecakes, the cut raw vegetables and the tiered fruit display. And because the temperature had dipped into the low 30s that morning, he quickly made four gallons of a soup filled with ham, orzo and white bean dip, hoping it would help take the chill away.

Then when Mills arrived downtown, he set up everything in grand style. For Stenz, it was a world removed from the first days of the ministry 28 years ago when bologna sandwiches were served to the homeless people.

“Not only was the food good, but it looked just like a banquet,” Stenz says. “They had the whole nine yards. There were 200 people in line all around the parking lot. They come there for food, clothing and socialization. They were pleasantly surprised, and we were surprised. It was a nice gesture by Chatard. We’ve been doing this for 28 years, and we’ve never had food of this banquet level. It was all good.”

Stenz also had kind words for everything that Mills did. The caterer said he was just happy to be part of the effort.

“I’m glad the food didn’t go to waste, and I’m glad there are people who are able to do things like this for others. And I’m glad the school had the foresight to do something like this. It’s good to help.”

The response of the homeless people to receiving the gourmet meal also helped to ease the disappointment at Bishop Chatard of the historic football game being canceled, Ruffing says.

“It sure softened the blow. People had put a lot of hard work into the event for two to three weeks, and a lot of people were looking forward to it. Once they heard the food went to the homeless downtown, people responded really well about it. They were glad that somebody had been served by it, and it went for a good cause.”

She believes God had a hand in everything, too, sharing a philosophy that helps guide the school:

“Trusting in God’s providence, we will recognize his gifts.” †

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