Lunch among ladies: Parishioners, unhoused women find meaning in meals

March 3, 2023

A visit with lunch program organizers at Kenton Women’s Village hosted by Catholic Charities of Oregon

They call each other “ladies.” That’s because when volunteers from Holy Redeemer Parish in Portland visit Kenton Women’s Village each month, respect runs even deeper than the dishes of lasagna the parishioners bring for lunch.

“There is nobody as great as these people are,” villager Elena Wilson says during one of the monthly visits. Villagers have been unhoused but now form community in a pod of tiny homes two miles from the parish.

“They are awesome,” Wilson says, having just finished off a plate over conversation and laughter. “They are a godsend.”

Catholic Charities of Oregon manages the village, where the community unanimously concurs that it wants the Holy Redeemer lunches to continue.

Vivamus egestas justo vitae semper sodales. Maecenas sit amet tellus non augue cursus.

“I hope they come again because I really enjoy them,” says Toni Tuski, pictured above, left, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Fran Smith of Holy Redeemer. “It means a lot to me. I really love them coming here. They’re good ladies.”

Everyone knows that the good feelings flow both ways.

“These ladies are amazing,” Smith says of Tuski and other villagers. “They are so full of joy. I have learned from them that you can have some adversity or sadness in your life but you can overcome it.”

Cherie Hadley, Catholic Charities’ program coordinator at Kenton Women’s Village, said the lunches mean a lot to villagers.

They get to communicate and sit down and fellowship with the ladies,” Hadley explains as a train roars past. “Someone serves them and they feel love.

As for the Holy Redeemer women, Hadley says they feel the fulfillment of connecting to neighbors and realizing that wonderful people sometimes end up without a house.

Pat Cronin leads the Holy Redeemer team. She helped start the ministry before the pandemic, not long after her husband died.

“Women lose housing for so many different reasons,” says Cronin. “They deserve all the support and the recognition and the assistance and just the love that we can show to them.”

Cronin says her experience at Kenton has shown her what’s most important in life and that disaster can be turned into thriving.

At a recent lunch, Cronin shared a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. before the meal. In part, it said, that there is a power in the universe “able to make a way out of no way.”

Women lose housing for so many different reasons. They deserve all the support and recognition and the assistance and just the love that we can show to them

Two 20-something villagers appreciate the chance to engage with more-seasoned women.

“I like the intergenerational connection,” says Chay Combs, 29. “I don’t think we have enough of that. Every time they come here, I learn something new, they learn something new. … I think a lot of wisdom gets passed between generations.”

Lunette Wimberly, a 27-year-old community organizer, enjoys meeting with women who are both kind and clear about what’s right and just.

“Getting to speak with the ladies from this church about mission values and getting good points of wisdom from them is really nice,” Wimberly says.

The parish women say meeting the villagers has made them better human beings.

“They are very resilient,” says Andrea Belcher, a member of Holy Redeemer for 20 years. “I don’t know if I could love as much as they do in such conditions.”

Watch a video about the lunches at Kenton Women’s Village in Portland, Oregon.

Program Stories

Stay connected. Sign up for updates from Catholic Charities.