Christmas-themed dinner at Baltimore’s Franciscan Center includes help from school presidents

Marlow Zimmerman, front, and Piper Biemiller hand out socks and blankets to guests of the Dec. 23 Christmas lunch at the Franciscan Center in Baltimore. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

Like many organizations that help those who are down on their luck, the Franciscan Center relies upon volunteers to complement its mission.

For decades, the center’s partners included students from Loyola Blakefield. Jeffrey Griffin, its executive director, wants that network to include other Catholic schools, which is why the servers dishing out a substantial mid-day meal Dec. 23 included some familiar faces in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

In addition to Anthony Day, the president of Loyola Blakefield, the volunteers included two of his peers, Conventual Franciscan Father Donald Grzymski of Archbishop Curley High School and Christian Brother John Kane of Calvert Hall College High School.

“We compete in admissions and athletics,” Day said of rival Catholic schools, “but when it comes to helping the city, we put all of our hearts and hands together.”

According to Griffin, he collaborated with Day on the effort. According to Day, that’s a typical response from Griffin, a parishioner of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Baynesville.

“Jeff did all the leg work on this,” Day said. “It’s easy to respond and say, ‘great idea’ on my part, but Jeff is a guy who doesn’t want any credit. He is living the Gospel.”

According to its mission statement, the Franciscan Center provides “emergency assistance and supportive outreach to persons who are economically disadvantaged.”

Two days before Christmas, that involved culinary director Steve Allbright, lead cook Brenda Hampton and company preparing meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, green beans and fruit salad. When some of the sides ran low, mashed potatoes and oranges were added to the menu.

Christian Brother John Kane of Calvert Hall, left, and Anthony Day of Loyola Blakefield, second from right, were among the Catholic high school presidents on the serving line. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

“We had served 300 by 11:15,” Allbright said, of an effort that was ready to feed 700.

The center’s annual Christmas party for its community included Santa Claus and gift bags, consisting of a blanket, hygiene kit, hats and clothes.

Clients showing their appreciation included Robin Moore, a former corrections officer in juvenile justice trying to get back on her feet after being injured on the job.

“This is not just a place to eat, they offer plenty of services,” said Moore, who planned to spend the night at a shelter on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Allan Joseph, meanwhile, said an abandoned row home would be his shelter for the evening. Joseph worked in informational systems until suffering a heart attack. He has lost a job and a home, but not his sense of humor.

“That meal was delicious,” said Joseph, who was asked to name his favorite thing about it. “The meatloaf. It had meat in it.”

Day said that every Loyola Blakefield junior serves the Franciscan Center once during the school year. They have included his sons, Aaron, class of 2015, and Ethan, ’19. Aaron was on the serving line Dec. 23, as were a father-and-son from Calvert Hall: Brian, class of 85, and Tim, ’18.

Rudy DeSantis prepares mashed potatoes for the  Dec, 23 mid-day meail that was expected to feed 700. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

Father Gryzmski’s Christmas week will include a trip to Ocean City, Brother John’s a visit with family in Philadelphia. Both, however, made time to accept Griffin’s invitation on one of the biggest single-day efforts of the year at the Franciscan Center.

“We had 180 children in (Dec. 17) for a Christmas party for them,” Griffin said. “The closest elementary school, 25 percent of the students are homeless. We had 14 high-schoolers from St. Francis Xavier (in Hunt Valley) in to help. They were all awesome.”

A more seasoned parishioner of St. Francis Xavier and regular in the kitchen, Rudy DeSantis, graduated from Loyola in 1954. A retired dentist who sent all five of his sons to his old school, DeSantis said that he has gotten more from his service to the Franciscan Center than it has gotten from him.

“If Jesus were walking the earth today, where would he go?” DeSantis said. “Here.”


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Paul McMullen

Paul McMullen

Paul McMullen has served as the managing editor of the Catholic Review since 2008.

The author of two books, Paul has been involved in local media since age 12, when he began delivering The News American to 80 homes in his neighborhood. He began his journalism career with the Capital-Gazette Newspapers in Anne Arundel County, and spent more than 25 years as a sports writer for The Sun in Baltimore. His favorite writing assignments have included the Summer Olympics in Australia and Greece, the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and “Feet for Francis,” a 2015 walking pilgrimage from the Baltimore Basilica to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis.