SHAWNEE — The sight is breathtaking.
A table piled high with cakes, breads, fruits, vegetables and more, decorated with flowers.
March 4 marked the 20th year for the St. Joseph’s Table tradition at St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee.
Table celebrations started centuries ago in Sicily, where food had been anything but plentiful.
“About 500 years ago in Sicily, there was a terrible drought,” explained Christine Marion, who has helped organize the parish’s St. Joseph’s Table since its inception in 1993.
The drought led to a famine. Crops couldn’t grow, and people prayed for rain.
“They turned to St. Joseph,” Marion said. “When the rains came, they felt it was an answer to their prayers.”
And so, for his feast day — March 19 — Sicilians stacked a table high with their most precious commodity: food — mostly pastries, pastas, breads and other items made of grain.
And they invited everyone to come and honor St. Joseph. They gave thanks and asked for his intercession throughout the year.
The centuries-old tradition has been honored, even here in Kansas City, for decades.
“Since the whole tradition of the St. Joseph’s Table was to feed the hungry at the beginning,” Marion said, “that would be our purpose.”
So the items on the table are sold, and a huge Italian dinner — open to the whole parish — follows. The proceeds from the table and the dinner are combined and used to buy grocery store gift cards for families in need throughout the year.
Sometimes the cards go to elderly people on fixed incomes when they have been struggling with their health, or to a single parent having a hard time making ends meet.
“We try to pay special attention to the summertime, when kids are home from school,” said Marion.
Marion recalled a mother who woke up one morning wondering how she was going to feed her family. When she checked the mailbox, she discovered a gift card for groceries.
“It meant putting meat on the table after four nights of macaroni and cheese,” Marion said.
Three couples make up the steering committee for the St. Joseph’s Table each year, but more than 100 adults and kids help make it happen. Weeks of planning and preparation go into it. People donate time, talent and food.
Women of the parish baked 5,000 cookies for the event; men of the parish cooked the meal.
The St. Joseph’s Table never includes meat because the saint’s feast day invariably falls during Lent.
So the menu for the meal consists of made-from-scratch bucatini, a spaghetti-like pasta, but hollow, covered with either spaghetti sauce or a red Milanese sauce filled with vegetables, and topped with a sprinkling of bread crumbs. Salad, garlic bread, homemade Italian cookies and spumoni ice cream complete the meal.
This year more than 700 people enjoyed the food and fellowship and their donations grossed a little over $12,000.
It’s a massive endeavor, but it’s a labor of love, said Marion.
For her, it all comes down to this: “Community and fellowship and doing good for the needy and helping others during Lent.”