Everybody has everyday heroes – people we admire and set apart in an imaginary pantheon of those who do good and exceptional things. Caroleann Myers is one of my heroes. She’s also quietly hailed by more than 250 people every Saturday in Baltimore, where she oversees the cooking and serving of dinner for the hungry at Mt. Vernon Place UMC.
As director of Carpenter’s Kitchen for more than 20 years, Myers is an odd mixture of social activist, Old Testament prophet, feminist, grandmother and drill sergeant.
“Coffee! Poured! Now!” she’ll holler to snap volunteers to attention; and then within minutes she’ll be comforting a cold and crying guest who doesn’t know where he’ll be able to eat next weekend.
There were a lot of tears Christmas Day, when Carpenter’s Kitchen closed its doors for good.
Mt. Vernon Place leaders, struggling with the financial challenges of keeping an enormous and historic church operational, are exploring ways the church basement might be used to bring in money.
Carpenter’s Kitchen was not a money-maker. While more than 20 urban and suburban churches covered most of the costs on a rotating basis, by bringing in the food and providing the volunteer labor each Saturday, the church did not feel that keeping Carpenter’s Kitchen open was a responsible option.
About 30 volunteers and $600 a week are needed to feed the up to 300 guests who come each Saturday between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m.
Some of the tears surrounding Carpenter’s Kitchen were from these volunteers, who came from churches like Glen Mar, Linden Linthicum, Severna Park and Linthicum Heights UMCs. Carpenter’s Kitchen gave their members an opportunity to be in ministry with people in Baltimore.
Carpenter’s Kitchen made it easy to transcend boundaries. Myers made sure of that. Now people aren’t certain how they might be able to contribute in meaningful ways. A door to ministry in the city has closed.
Other tears came from the guests who ate there – many of whom say they have no other place to find a hot meal over the weekend.
“Carpenter’s Kitchen was started in response to a sermon by Ed Ankeny, who challenged the congregation to discover what the community really needed. They did. A food pantry would have been easier, but the community needed a place where they could eat on weekends, when most of the other feeding programs in the city were closed, Myers said.
The people who come to Carpenter’s Kitchen report they are always treated like guests there. They’re known, and served.
Myers is also mourning – as she cycles repeatedly through the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Tears are common. Anger seems appropriate. But acceptance is harder to swallow.
Leading Carpenter’s Kitchen, Myers now knows most of the faces of the volunteers and the guests. Their stories have become hers. While she knows that no ministry is created to last forever, she finds it hard to fathom that such an unhappy ending should befall Carpenter’s Kitchen, on Christmas of all days.
Sometimes it’s her unacceptance that makes the situation seem bearable. She, and the volunteers, and the Mt. Vernon Place congregation and the Carpenter’s Kitchen guests, will find a new and next step. For Myers, it will be probably be something Gospel-like and a bit heroic – the drill sergeant-grandmother in her could do no less.