Franciscan food truck nourishes souls and bodies

Roxanne King

In 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: Radical living and my friend Shelly

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I saw my friend Shelly the other day, for the first time in 28 years.

Back in the day, she was Shelly Pennefather, basketball phenomenon. She led Denver’s Bishop Machebeuf High School’s women’s basketball team to three undefeated seasons, a 70-0 record. In her senior year, her family moved to Utica, New York, where she led the Notre Dame High School team to a 26-0 season, giving her a no loss record for her entire high school career. She remains Villanova University’s all-time scorer — men’s and women’s — with a career total of 2408 points.  She also holds the women’s rebound record, at 1171. She is a three-time Big East Player of the Year, the first All-American out of the Big East, the 1987 National Player of the Year, and a winner of the prestigious Wade Trophy. She’s been inducted into the Philadelphia Women’s Big Five Hall of Fame, and Villanova has retired her jersey. After college, she played professional women’s basketball in Japan. She was making more money than anybody I knew.

She doesn’t go by Shelly anymore. These days, she is Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. She lives in the Poor Clares Monastery in Alexandria, Virginia. She joined their community in 1991 and took her final vows in 1997. They are cloistered, which means that they don’t leave the monastery, except for medical emergencies. Her only contact with the outside world is through letters, and very limited visits with family and friends. She’s never used the internet, doesn’t know what Facebook is, and when she saw a visitor answer a cell phone, she asked “What is that?”

Why? Why on God’s earth would a basketball star of this magnitude just walk away from the game and the fame, or go from being one of the world’s highest paid women’s basketball players to taking a vow of perpetual poverty? Why would an attractive, funny, vivacious 25-year-old woman renounce marriage and family to lock herself up in a monastery? Why would a loving daughter and sister embrace a religious discipline wherein she could only see her family — through a screen —a few times a year, and hug them only once every 25 years? Why would anybody voluntarily live a life in which they could own nothing, sleep no more than four hours at a time (on a straw mat), eat no more than one full meal a day, and use telephones, TV, radio, internet and newspapers — well, never?

It all boils down to this: We’re all gonna die. And when we do, all of the money and the prestige and the accomplishments and the basketball awards are going to fall away. All that will be left is us and God. If we play our cards right, we will spend eternity beholding his face and praising him. And, as St. Augustine says, that is where our truest happiness lies — in this life as well as in the next: “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and will not rest until they rest in Thee.”

Cloistered sisters like the Poor Clares make the radical choice to live that way now — to begin their eternal life here on earth. As religious sisters, they are brides of Christ, and they focus their lives entirely on their bridegroom, without the distractions of all the stuff that’s going to fall away after death anyway. They spend their lives primarily in prayer — praying for you and for me and for this entire mixed up world and in deepening their own relationship with Christ.

This, it goes without saying, is a radical way to live. It is not for everyone, or even for most people. It is a free choice on the part of the sisters. But they do not take the initiative. God himself is the initiator. He calls them to this life, and they freely respond. Sister Rose Marie herself told her coach that this was not the life she would have chosen for herself, but it was very clear to her that it was the life God was calling her to.

I finally got to see Sister Rose Marie last weekend, as she celebrated the 25th anniversary of her solemn vows. I had the privilege of witnessing the once-every-25-year-hugs she gave her family. I spoke to her briefly, from behind the screen. She was always a cheerful person. But I saw a joy and a radiance in her that day that I have rarely seen ever, in anyone. It was beautiful.

The great gift these sisters give to us, aside from their prayers, is that they remind us that this life, and all its pleasures and distractions, will not last forever. And their dedication and their joy give us a small glimpse into the joy that is in store for us, if we can only imitate in some small way their singular focus on their Bridegroom.

Pray for them. And pray for the grace to do what they do — to rise above the distractions of this world and look toward the life that never ends.