When Mark Dubielak makes a commitment, he sticks to it.
Dubielak, a long-time theology teacher at St. Ursula Academy, is SUA’s director of Labre, a program to feed the underserved in inner-city Toledo every Monday through a joint venture with St. John’s Jesuit High School and Academy. Named after Jesuit saint Benedict Joseph Labre, the program is now in its eighth year and has only missed two Mondays, both because of Level 3 snowstorms. Rain or shine, summer or winter, holiday or regular old weekday, the Labre team—students from SUA and SJJ, along with faculty, staff, and parents from both schools—makes and distributes food to nearly a hundred people each week.
But then this pandemic threw the team for a loop.
Dubielak and his team immediately went into action. “When Phil Skeldon [from SJJ] and I started Labre, there were two major reasons to do it: we had great young people who wanted to help and were committed to this service, and feeding hungry people was the right thing to do (it’s one of the Seven Works of Mercy). How could we do Labre without the students? It goes against the grain of Labre. But then we thought about what would happen to the people we serve if we suddenly stopped coming. These people are disadvantaged, so if we stopped coming with food, it would be life letting them down one more time. When SUA and SJJ took on this program, we knew we had to be consistently committed to showing up every Monday with food and conversation. The only way to be trusted with friendship is to be a good friend. So, we decided, Labre would keep happening as long as the civic authorities didn't disallow it.”
At first, the team slimmed down to just essential personnel—no students, no parents for communal food preparation and distribution. Then, they had to take it to another level when Ohioans were asked to stay home—and they came up with an entirely new model to keep the underserved fed. Now, SUA and SJJ families are signing up online to create food “kits” that adult Labre team members will pick up from their porches. Each kit consists of 20 sandwiches (peanut butter and jelly or meat and cheese), fruit, cookies or brownies, and chips placed in a paper bag. The team gathers these kits from all over town to transport to the three distribution stations, where they will provide it—from a safe distance—to those in need. The Sign-up Genius was nearly full within 24 hours, even with weeks of meals on the list.
“Labre meets people where they are and tries to treat them as dignified human beings, no matter what their circumstances or their failings are. All the great examples in religious history, all the great religions, say one familiar thing: I must treat others as I wish to be treated. ‘Go to the margins,’ Pope Francis says. ‘Don't worry about doing great things; do little things with great love,’ Mother Theresa said.”
“This is where Labre goes—to the margins, doing little things with great love,” Dubielak added.