The Marian House: Serving Those in Need with Grace and Dignity

The Colorado Springs community would suffer greatly without the efforts of the Marian House Soup Kitchen, a service of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado and the only soup kitchen in the Pikes Peak region that offers a hot meal to anyone who needs or wants one 365 days of the year. In fact, Catholic Charities is the largest regional provider of free meals to those in need. What most people don’t realize is that the Marian House feeds more of the working poor than any other demographic. True, the homeless account for 35% of those served daily at the Soup Kitchen, but the Marian House serves a wildly diverse population: brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and grandchildren; the healthy, disabled, drug addicted, downtrodden, unemployed, lonely, and hurt; seniors on a fixed income, veterans, those with disabilities, and unsupported teens. All these people can be found eating a hot meal at the Marian House, and in numbers that reflect economic realities. According to Rochelle Schlortt, Director of Communications for Catholic Charities, the Marian House normally serves over 600 plus daily, but the numbers rise halfway through the month. When necessities such as rent and utilities have been paid, the hunger number increases to 750 -775 per day, and sometimes the kitchen serves over 800 on any given day.

Since 1985, the Marian House has been feeding the hungry people in the Colorado Springs area with no questions asked and an open-door policy. The Soup Kitchen is open and operational every day. It’s run by a small Catholic Charities staff and about 45 – 50 volunteers who keep the operation running smoothly. The volunteers take on the role of food preppers, dishwashers, cooks, servers, bussers, greeters, pantry workers, cleaners, delivery drivers, pick-up drivers, and stockers. So who comes to volunteer at the Marian House? Various organizations, companies, firemen, policemen, athletes, teachers, clubs, churches, youth groups, corporations, book clubs, the military — in other words, people from all walks of life who are willing to give of their time and talent to help feed the hungry. The scale of this operation is impressive. The Catholic Charities 2011/2012 Annual Report noted that 95,000 volunteer hours are donated yearly by the community, mainly to the Marian House, at a value of over two million dollars, with the Soup Kitchen operation expenses running at $622,323. Hence, donations are valuable in any form, whether given in time, talent, or treasure, e.g., a bag of coffee, a sack of oranges, a turkey, or a couple of hours here and there. Most Marian House volunteers will tell you that giving is a far greater gift than receiving.

Nevertheless, the Marian House has faced some stern opposition. Various interest groups have wanted a city authorized ban on the Soup Kitchen. Notably, those who challenged the mid-2000 expansion of the Soup Kitchen included the Downtown Partnership (an association of downtown businesses) and their ally the Boulder Crescent Neighborhood Group, an association formed for the expansion opposition. Their contention was that the Marian House Soup Kitchen enabled the addicted; thus, the downtown area and the adjacent neighborhoods were suffering the consequences of this behavior: drug dealing, littering of drug paraphernalia, loitering, public urination, and other possible public safety issues. At one point, the Downtown Partnership sent a letter to city planner Steve Tuck stating that the Soup Kitchen’s policy of feeding all comers, no questions asked, enabled addicted individuals to continue their behavior. The response from Catholic Charities and the Marian House was mediation and a possible solution — a guarantee of a continual police presence in the Marian House parking lot to act as a deterrent to any possible crime in the adjacent neighboring areas, and focusing on an ongoing litter clean-up in the nearby neighborhoods and Monument Valley Park.

Despite this and other challenges, the Marian House Soup Kitchen and related Catholic Charities organizations like the Hanifen Center’s Client Services operation continue their mission to meet the crucial needs of our community, offering necessities to all without prejudice, regardless of status. Client Services extends assistance to clients at their home bases, traveling the Springs area, reaching out to the rural outlying areas of El Paso County, and connecting with people all the way to the mountain town of Leadville. Services and case management are based on the following individual needs: self-sufficiency training, computer literacy, job seeking skills, assistance obtaining IDs, and securing birth certificates. In short, Marian House staff and volunteers are always finding ways to overcome the darkness of apathy by proactively assisting those who are struggling and seeking help, and they manage to do this throughout an entire region of the country. The Marion House deserves our attention, respect, and support. After all, they extend the same to everyone else, no questions asked.