by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — Sometimes, all you need is a helping hand.
For Bridget Meier, a helping hand is exactly what she needed several months ago when she experienced an unexpected medical issue.
The mother of four young boys and a parishioner at Topeka’s Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish, Meier had her hands full several months ago when all four boys came down with the flu. After nursing them back to health, Meier herself became ill. Thinking it was the same flu, she brushed it off at first.
Yet, the pain persisted. It eventually became excruciating, resulting in a visit to the emergency room.
Turns out, she had a kidney stone and needed surgery. When she later went home, she was supposed to rest and not lift anything heavier than 10 pounds.
That’s when Meier’s mother made a call to the church, and Mary’s Helping Hands sprang into action.
Officially launched as a parish ministry on Jan. 1, Mary’s Helping Hands is a network of 80 volunteers who provide one full, hot meal on a particular day to a family who needs “a helping hand” for a little while.
At the moment, the ministry serves parishioners who have just experienced the birth or adoption of a new baby, are undergoing chemotherapy or are recovering from surgery.
The idea for the ministry was the brainchild of Linda Glasgow, a past president of the parish’s women’s fellowship, who brought the idea to a meeting. Parishioners Mary Hammerschmidt, Dottie Polter and Elaine Broxterman volunteered to spearhead the effort.
Their first step was to call other churches, Catholic and non-Catholic, throughout the city to find out if any other church had a similar ministry and could offer tips or advice on how to get one started in their parish.
When they called Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in southwest Topeka, they learned the planned ministry could be simplified by a website already in use there. After reviewing that website, Take Them a Meal, which is used for scheduling and coordination of meals, the organizers knew it was the one for them.
The process itself is simple. If parishioners need meals brought to them, they can call the church office directly or have someone call the church office on their behalf. The request is then forwarded to Hammerschmidt, the ministry’s lead coordinator.
She then calls the family and gathers some basic information to assist the volunteers in providing the meals. For instance, how many days will the family require meals? Does anyone in the family have special requests or dietary needs? What is the best time of day to deliver a meal?
After gathering the information, Hammerschmidt then inputs the details into the website. A notice is then sent to the volunteers who sign up on the website for a specific day. Volunteers can also indicate what they plan to bring, although that’s not required. The only requirement is to bring a full, hot meal.
In order to ensure the meals are provided on schedule, the day before a volunteer’s turn, a reminder is sent from the website to both the volunteer and Hammerschmidt.
“It’s all very, very easy,” said Hammerschmidt.
Mary’s Helping Hands provided Meier and her family with seven meals, one a day for an entire week.
“They were nice, home-cooked meals,” she said, adding there were no duplicates. Her family enjoyed barbecue meatballs; a tater tot casserole; fried chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy and a vegetable; and even a tuna casserole, due to it being a Friday in Lent. Every meal also included a dessert.
“The dessert was my boys’ favorite part,” said Meier with a laugh.
And the meals were a blessing.
“I could focus on resting and healing,” said Meier, instead of preparing a meal and cleaning up afterward. And her husband could focus on the boys.
Plus, there was often enough food for a second meal.
At first, Meier admits to being a bit hesitant to accept the help.
“You don’t think about asking for yourself, and you feel hesitant because you don’t want to put others out,” said Meier. “It’s hard to receive any big, thoughtful gift. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming.”
Yet, being able to call on one’s parish family is important, she said.
“I think taking care of somebody at their most vulnerable and in their time of need is what Jesus wants us to do,” she said.