Dr. Liz Lee, a pediatrician and St. Clare volunteer, brings carts of takeout bags for the hot meal at St. André Bessette. Dr. Lee’s 12- and 14-year-old sons also volunteered.
Dr. Liz Lee, a pediatrician and St. Clare volunteer, brings carts of takeout bags for the hot meal at St. André Bessette. Dr. Lee’s 12- and 14-year-old sons also volunteered.
On Friday, March 13, 2020, St. André Bessette Parish (formerly the Downtown Chapel on West Burnside Street) suspended its Friday night hot meal service to Portland’s downtown homeless because of the surging COVID-19 pandemic.

St. Clare was the last volunteer group to serve meals on that day. St. André Bessette scaled down to just one staff person to support Holy Cross Father Tom Gaughan, pastor, in passing out sandwiches made by Central Catholic High School students, hygiene packets and some critically needed clothing several times a week.

St. André Bessette resumed its once-a-month Friday night hot meals May 6. Volunteers and staff served more than 50 plates of spaghetti and meatballs, salad, dessert and coffee that night.

On May 20 St. Clare Parish in Southwest Portland resumed providing a once-a-month Friday night takeout meal at St. André Bessette. Seven St. Clare volunteers prepared bags containing hot, bean-free meat chili along with a butter croissant, apple sauce container, oatmeal raisin cookies and a juice pouch.

St. André staff noted that although guests are not yet able to come inside, preparing the hot meal in the kitchen and serving at the door is a step toward welcoming guests back into the building.

St. Clare has a long history with St. André, which in 2019 marked its 100th anniversary. For most of those years the down-to-earth parish was the Downtown Chapel; it was renamed in 2011.

The new name was in honor of the first Holy Cross saint. He served as a Holy Cross brother in Canada. St. André Bessette was widely known for his healing and deep connection to St. Joseph. Holy Cross priests have served at St. André Parish since 1989.

In 2019, St. Clare served 433 dinner meals at St. André, with an average cost per meal of $3.58. That budget allowed the ministry to provide healthy complete dinners, which included a quality meat entrée, vegetable, fruit, dessert and juice. We served a full turkey dinner in December for the Christmas season.

About eight volunteers per service typically helped out for each dinner from the ministry’s pool of 20 volunteers. One-time “guest” volunteers from the youth group and people who signed up at St. Clare’s outreach fair also have helped.

St. Clare parishioners also give donations of clothes and other needed items for St. André. Such donations can be brought to the parish office during business hours.

We encourage St. Clare parishioners to consider serving at least once for a humbling and spiritually satisfying experience which addresses Jesus’ directive that we serve the less fortunate (Matthew 25: 35-37).

What is most needed, though, is for other parishes to take on a monthly Friday meal service. Pre-pandemic, St. André had all the Fridays of the month covered by various parishes, but that has faded away.

Kowalczyk is a member of St. Clare Parish in Southwest Portland.

To help

Contact St. André Bessette’s coordinator of mission and outreach at mission@saintandrechurchpdx.org or by calling (503) 228-0746 ext. 2.

To take on a Friday meal, parish representatives should speak with Fr. Tom Gaughan at St. André Bessette.

To join the St. Clare St. André Bessette ministry volunteer list, contact John Kowalczyk at johnkowal@aol.com.