Students gain valuable life lessons feeding the lonely and homeless


When Langston Deterding was in confirmation earlier this year, she chose Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, the patron saint of the homeless, as her saint name.

In her hometown of Prairie du Rocher, Langston doesn’t witness homelessness. But because of a service trip three years earlier to St. Louis with Moms on a Mission, she saw it firsthand.

“It was an all-around, eye-opening experience for a fifth-grader,” says Jill Whelan, who works with the youth group at St. Joseph in Prairie de Rocher. She also is the parish secretary.

Then in January, Langston chose to restock the food pantry in Red Bud as her service project for confirmation.

And on November 5, Langston and Charlotte Lindsey from Red Bud, followed the example of Saint Benedict and fed those who are less fortunate at Notre Dame Academy-Cathedral Campus in Belleville.

Langston, an eighth grader at Prairie du Rocher Elementary, and Charlotte, a seventh grader from Red Bud Elementary, along with Whelan and Kim Deterding, left Prairie du Rocher at 6:30 a.m. to travel to Belleville.

They arrived by 7:30 a.m. to volunteer at the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s Saturday morning breakfast or the Breakfast for the Needy and Lonely, as it has been called. A hot breakfast is served every Saturday morning in the Notre Dame School cafeteria.

This weekly breakfast is just one of the ways Cathedral of St. Peter parishioners meet to address the social concerns of their parish as well as those of their neighbors, by reaching out to the poor and lonely. By coordinating and working with various support agencies and faith communities, they seek ways to involve parish members in works of mercy.

In addition to the breakfast, the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s Cathedral Food Pantry provides food, spiritual and financial aid, and clothing to people who live in the area.

“Langston told me she didn’t know what to expect during this recent service project,” Whelan says. “But after being there, she said this was different because it was inside and not cold.”

When they served food on the trip to St. Louis three years ago, it was outside, and it was cold.

She was also surprised that people took the bus from East St. Louis to attend the breakfast.

Each guest at the breakfast completes an order sheet indicating what they would like to have for their meal. Choices include scrambled eggs, pancakes, ham, biscuits and gravy, toast, oatmeal, and cereal.

They plan to serve 40 to 60 people with six to 10 volunteers each Saturday. Two volunteers shop for ingredients and supplies during the week so that everything is fresh.

Volunteers in the kitchen make the food and dish out each order. The girls were responsible for taking the orders to the tables and getting drinks.

Both girls said everyone was friendly, said thank you and were grateful.

As people leave the breakfast, water bottles, cookies and to-go boxes were available.

The volunteers also were invited to eat the same meal that was served to the guests.

“It made us think how much we all take breakfast for granted, at home and at school,” Whelan says.

When the students were asked what they liked about the experience, they said they enjoyed meeting Pete Joergensen, one of the volunteers for St. Vincent de Paul.

“Pete is one of those really likeable guys, and he had a comment for everything,” Whelan explains.

“He went out of his way to talk to us and to everyone there. He stopped at every table and said, ‘Hi.’ He made you feel like you were somebody – that day and every day,” Whelan says.

Besides Pete and the group from St. Joseph, there were several other volunteers that day, including a mom with her two children, another woman, and a teenager who made the biscuits and gravy and oatmeal.

“We felt so welcomed by everyone,” Whelan says. “They appreciated that we came to volunteer and were surprised that we came from ‘so far away.’”

She adds, “It wasn’t that far away for us. We drove an hour for people we didn’t know but we were willing and wanting to help. It made us feel good because we were helping people. And, well, the delicious pancakes also helped.”

How you can help

The Cathedral of St. Peter Parish and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are able to host these breakfasts because of donations and volunteers.

“We were blessed by a benefactor a few years ago and continue to receive donations from people on an ongoing basis,” says Ron Lassman, who oversees this outreach effort for the Cathedral.

“We are wholly supported by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and don’t rely on the church for funds,” he adds.

During the COVID-19 pandemic and until six months ago, the meal consisted of a breakfast sandwich.

 “Now that we are serving full, hot meals, we’ve seen an uptick in number of guests,” Lassman says.

“We are actively searching for volunteers,” he says. “As we increase our stewardship, we need to increase our volunteers.”

Lassman says they really appreciated the students from St. Joseph in Prairie du Rocher who volunteered on Nov. 5. “We’d love to have them back,” he adds.

Volunteering at the breakfasts also provides service hours to high school students.

“We are always looking for new cooks,” he says. “If I can cook on a Saturday morning, anyone can cook.”

The next outreach event for the Cathedral is the Christmas meal on Dec. 17, with gifts provided for the children who attend.

“Information will be available soon on how to donate gifts for the children,” Lassman says.

Lassman, who lives in Shiloh and works for a nonprofit called Challenge Unlimited in Alton, says his four children are college-age and older.

“My family has been fortunate, very blessed,” Lassman says. “We wanted to find a way to give back to the community.”

For more information or to volunteer, contact Ron Lassman at 618-550-3883.