Persons, places and things: Sister’s glad to be back at ‘work’

Barb Arland-Fye

Word spread among the homeless that Sister Ludmilla Benda, RSM, had reopened Father Conroy’s Vineyard of Hope in Davenport, and they were waiting when the doors opened last month. The meal site that offers food, a shower and a place to wash clothes on Sundays had been shuttered for 10 weeks after Sister was injured in a car-pedestrian accident May 31. The recuperation and rehabilitation nearly drove the octogenarian crazy, but she’s grateful to God for being able to resume ministry to the poorest of the poor. “The main thing is that I get tired, but I’m very fortunate.”
While the meals mean a great deal to her patrons, so do clean clothes and skin. “I think the things they missed most were the showers and clothes washing, Sister told me after I’d visited the meal site with Altar and Rosary Society members from Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire. The ladies donate money and supplies to Sr. Ludmilla’s ministry and decided to hold their September meeting at Father Conroy’s Vineyard of Hope to get an update.
She started the meal site on the sidewalk in downtown Davenport in July 2005 with money Fr. Conroy had left her. The two had worked for years as a team ministering to the hungry and homeless before he died in February 2005. The “meal site” relocated to temporary quarters during the winter months before Tom Roederer offered use of a small apartment house he owns at Fourth and Pershing streets. She’s been there ever since.
Between 80 and 150 people patronize Father Conroy’s Vineyard of Hope, with the higher numbers occurring toward the end of the month, she told the Altar and Rosary Society members. “We serve until the food is gone.” Depending on how many show up, that means second servings for some and carry-outs. The small building seats about 20 people; the overflow eats outside in the parking lot, sheltered under a tent during hot weather. Sister makes use of every bit of space, and pointed out men’s polo shirts hanging from hangers on a ledge along the wall in one dining room.
About 18 volunteers assist Sr. Ludmilla. One of her dish washers had an apron appliquéd with a message that reads: “Assistant to the Assistant Chief Dish Washer.”
Since she provides homeless guests with use of a shower, washing machine and two dryers on Sunday mornings, Sister now serves breakfast to the early birds: pancakes or omelets, sausage and other food items. “The ones who come in the morning, they’re the hungriest because they’ve probably been out walking the streets all night,” she said.
What’s her greatest need? “Everything, canned foods, beans especially; money is the best thing because I can get what I want and look for bargains.”
Sister doesn’t work 24-7, but admits she spends time each day preparing for Sundays at Father Conroy’s.
“If I didn’t have this work to do, I don’t know what I’d do,” she said.
Barb Arland-Fye

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