Franciscan food truck nourishes souls and bodies

Roxanne King

Last November, Capuchin Franciscan Friars serving in Denver joined the increasingly popular food truck trend, but with some key twists.

Like their food truck counterparts, they are drawing fans offering something special — in their case, fresh, healthy wraps loaded with lean meat and veggies. Unlike other culinary roadies, their food is free.

The main difference about the friars’ food truck? It’s not really about the food, but about presence.

“On the face of it our food truck is seeing to the physical need of people, but on a deeper level it serves a spiritual need and even an evangelical purpose,” said Father Joseph Mary Elder, O.F.M. Cap., head of the new ministry.

“Our charism is to be little brothers to people—friars minor,” he explained. “We want to use the food truck as an opportunity to enter into relationships with the poor.”

Painted Franciscan brown with colorful artwork depicting local friars engaged in ministry as well as Saints Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio, and Blessed Solanus Casey, the truck includes white text on the back acknowledging partnership with the Routzon Family Foundation, while messaging on the sides identifies it as belonging to the Capuchins and describing their mission as “Messengers of God’s mercy” and “Brothers to those in need.”

“It’s not only to feed the body, but to feed the soul, that’s what the food truck ministry is about,” said Cindy Routzon, secretary of the foundation and wife to its founder Ed Routzon.

The foundation bought the new F59 P700 14-foot Morgan Olson truck and, with additional aid from Regis University, has funded the food. Volunteers, including youth ministry groups, have helped put the lunches together. Some volunteers also help the friars distribute the food.

Two Sundays a month the truck heads to downtown sites where the homeless gather. There, friars and volunteers hand out sack lunches and beverages. They also give out seasonal items those living on the street may need such as hats, gloves and socks. Resources the poor can avail themselves of such as medical and mental health services are listed on the lunch bags.

“At first the people were hesitant because they saw a food truck and thought they had to pay,” said Capuchin Brother Jude Quinto, recalling the truck’s first run Nov. 25. “But when they saw friars in brown habits running around, then they knew what we were up to and a crowd started forming.”

That day the friars handed out 300 turkey wraps to some 200 people. They now distribute up to 350 wraps. One Sunday, they gave away wraps and tamales, which was also a hit.

It seems they can’t make a mistake.

“We did some vegetarian wraps by accident once, one guy in particular loved it,” Father Joseph said. “We try to keep the meals healthy. We don’t want to perpetuate the health problems many homeless have with diabetes and other medical issues.”

Annunciation Church parishioners Audrey Wakely, 25, and her husband Connor Wakeley, 24, are among the volunteers who have helped make and distribute the lunches.

“It was eye-opening to see what the homeless community is like,” Audrey Wakeley said. “They were so nice — and very grateful. We liked interacting with and putting a face to the homeless. I think a lot of times, many of us try not to talk to them.”

Like the homeless, the imprisoned and the elderly they minister to, the Capuchins themselves are largely invisible to the wider community even though they’ve been ministering in the archdiocese for 41 years.

“This ministry creates an opportunity to share our brotherhood with other people,” Father Joseph said. “It’s also a good way to let people know we’re here.”

In unveiling the new ministry at the orders’ benefit gala in October, Father Christopher Gama, O.F.M. Cap., said the food truck ministry aims to answer the new evangelization call of St. John Paul II to find innovative ways to spread the Gospel in the 21st century.

“This new initiative is about that,” Father Christopher said.  “To bring Christ into the world in a fresh new way.”

Those involved affirm that’s the case.

“I was thinking of Father Solanus Casey during the [first] trip,” Brother Jude said. “He and other friars had opened a soup kitchen and we’re doing that, only ours is mobile and it’s going to where the people are. It’s like a modern-day soup kitchen on wheels.

“The preaching we do is the love we show,” he added. “That’s the image of God we give: God who’s present.”

Among those accepting a lunch that day was a man identified only as Greg. He echoed the comments of other recipients who raved about the healthful, tasty meal — and he expressed hope to see the food truck again.

“I’m very happy to see the food truck and the Capuchin Franciscans out here,” he said. “It’s so needed. It’s wonderful that someone somewhere in the Catholic Church had this beautiful idea to do this. I hope to see more of this.”

Portions of this report originally appeared in the Capuchin Franciscans’ Winter 2018 publication The Porter.

COMING UP: Thomas Fitzsimons: The unsung Catholic Founding Father 

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As our nation celebrates the day of its independence and subsequent founding as a country on July 4, a look back some lesser-knowCatholic history of this historic event seems warranted.  

George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin: these are names every American knows. Pull out your wallet and you’ll likely see at least one of their faces on the money you carry aroundAnd while this nation was founded on principles rooted in Christianity, none of these men were Catholic. In fact, of the men history calls the Founding Fathers of America, only two were. 

Many may already be familiar with Founding Father Charles Carroll, a Catholic and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and whose brother John was the first Catholic bishop assigned to what would become the United States. However, Carroll was not the only Catholic who played a role in the founding of our country. The other was Thomas Fitzsimons, a name that is not mentioned much (if at all) in U.S. history classes but deserves to be recognized nonetheless.  

The unwieldy named Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, published in 1887, paints a vivid picture of Fitzsimons and the way his faith informed his character. While the other Founding Fathers were meeting and deliberating about the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons joined the Continental Army anfought on the frontlines against the British army. 

Captain Fitzsimons commanded his company of militia until 1778, when France entered the war. British troops withdrew from Pennsylvania and began to focus on the southern states. It was at this time that Fitzsimons became more involved in politics at the state level. In 1782, he became a delegate at the Continental Congress. In 1786, he was elected as a Pennsylvania state legislator and served for three terms until 1789. In 1787, he was selected to represent Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Congress, where the United States Constitution was written and ratified. He, along with Daniel Carroll, were the only two Catholics to sign to Constitution. 

Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1741, not much else is known about Fitzsimons’ family. He had three brothers – Nicholas, Andrew and John – and one sister, Ann. He and his family immigrated to America as early as 1760, where they became residents of Philadelphia. It was here that Fitzsimons would stake his claim as a businessman and politician. 

In 1763, Fitzsimons married Catharine Meade, whose brother, George Meade, would later go into business with Fitzsimons and build one of the most successful commercial trade houses in Philadelphia. Throughout his life, Fitzsimons was in close correspondence with Bishop John Carrollthese letters revealed insights into the Catholic Founding Father’s personal life. In a letter to Bishop Carroll in 1808, Fitzsimons wrote of being married to Catharine for 45 years. Additionally, local baptismal records show that he and Catharine stood as sponsors at the baptisms of three of Meade’s children. 

In 1774, Fitzsimons began his first foray into politics when he was elected as one of 13 Provincial Deputies who were given authority to call a general meeting of the citizens. It is believed he was the first Catholic to have ever held public office in the budding United States. Even so, anti-Catholic bigotry was common at the time and did exist within some of his fellow statesmen, such as John Adams, who once said in an address to the people of Great Britain that the Catholic faith was “a religion that has deluged your island in blood and dispersed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world.” 

Fitzsimons’ first stint in public office was brief, only lasting from May to July, but it was a foreshadowing his future involvement in state affairs. As the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Fitzsimons formed a company of soldiers to fight against the British army. He was assigned to the Third Battalion under Col. Cadwalader and Lieut. Col. John Nixon, who was the grandson of a Catholic. Behind the scenes, as George Washington and the like organized committees and framed what would become the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons ascended to the rank of Captain and continued to serve his country as a soldier and patriot.

In addition to his tenure as a commanding officer and politician, Fitzsimons also found success in other ventures. In 1781, he helped found the Bank of North America, the United States’ first de facto central bank, and served as its director until 1803. The latter years of his life were spent primarily in private business, but he maintained a consistent interest in public affairs; even Fitzsimons wasn’t exempt from the old adage, “once a politician, always a politician.” 

Through all of these endeavors, and even after befalling troubled financial times in the early 1800s, Fitzsimons remained a diligent philanthropist. He gave immense support to St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia and was invested in the improvement of public education in the commonwealth. As one of his contemporaries wrote after his death in 1811, “he died in the esteem, affection and gratitude of all classes of his fellow citizens.” 

Fitzsimons was buried in the graveyard of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia, which is now part of Independence National Historical Park. His name may not be a household one like Washington or Jefferson, but Fitzsimons can be remembered as something of an unsung Founding Father of the United Statesa man whose life of quiet faith, humble service and admirable patriotism exemplifies the values that this country was founded upon in a simple yet profound way.