Sister Mary

Sometimes my food world and my nonprofit world intersect. Not often. But they did today. For those of you who don’t know, the Community Resource Center (me and Betsy) give basic household stuff to nonprofits in Middle Tennessee. We’re talking socks for kids who don’t have any (really), laundry detergent for families who send their kids to school in filthy clothes (really) and bedding for people who sleep on bare mattresses if they’re lucky enough to have a mattress (really). Betsy and I have been visiting with our nonprofit partners just to get a feel for what they do and what they need. Today, it was the Smithson Craighead Academy. This is a charter school in Nashville that recruits the most deprived and desperate children, all behind in their classes, some of whom are in the third grade and can’t read.

Sister MaryAnd there I met Sister Mary Acerbi, a Catholic nun. She stands barely five feet tall and has a perpetual smile on her face. She’s listed as a “general assistant” at the school, but what she really does is feed the stomachs and souls of these children. She works out of a portable classroom she’s turned into a mess hall. One of her jobs is to feed the children after-school snacks. Snack is a general term for children who don’t get supper when they get home. Sister Mary gets her food from Second Harvest Food Bank and she just never knows what she’ll have to work with. Today, she had giant cans of artichoke hearts, not exactly kid food. She’s going to turn it into a stew of some sort. DSCN0526

A helper from a senior group, whose name I didn’t get and for which I apologize, was putting pumpkin bread into individual bags. They got the pumpkin bread because the box it came in was labeled “pound cake.”

Sister Mary makes beef stroganoff and slips in vegetables so the kids will eat them. She hands out food through the open window of the portable on Fun Fridays and the kids just love feeling like they’re at a concession stand. She also keeps spare uniforms (polo shirts and khaki pants) for kids who come to school improperly dressed (which sometimes means in dirty clothes). During the school day, she washes their clothes so they go home clean.

One of the things that just chaps my hide is that the Sister Marys of the world go largely unnoticed and unheralded in this age of food celebrities and star chefs. She is on the front line every day, serving up nutrition and love and nurturing. In a world where expense-account DSCN0525executives routinely eat $20 lunches while school kids subsist on less than $1 a tray (and how out of whack is that?), Sister Mary is figuring out how to get artichoke hearts to work out for poverty-stricken children. I would love to get donations for the Community Resource Center for socks and laundry detergent and shampoo, but if you want to help out a sister who’s stirring the pot on poverty, just lend a hand to the Smithson Craighead Academy.

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