It's no secret to my Huffington readers that I'm not a great fan of organized religions. Over the course of a long life I have witnessed too many examples of the deleterious effects many religions have inflicted upon the world. Yes, I know all of the virtuous things which are done by many faiths and the essential succor they offer to billions of people 'round the world. Personally I consider myself a hybrid, a Zen Juddhist of sorts, born Jewish and trying to follow Zen Buddhist precepts. But on Saturday night I went to an event which honored a woman whom I consider a true Saint. Yes, I know, I've made light of the efforts of some Catholic pontiffs to elevate many figures to sainthood...some deserved, most...who knows? When Pope Francis comes to the U.S. this September, he will certainly canonize Father Junipero Serra, who founded all those missions in California whilst the Native Americans (Indians) will protest his brutal treatment of their ancestors. Is it sacrilegious to suggest that instead he canonize a living woman? There is a gentle 80-year old woman whom I have known slightly for many years, Sister Alice Marie Quinn (known to us all as Sister Sam) of St. Vincent, and for 38 years I have watched in wonder as she guides an effort called Meals on Wheels. What they do is simply prepare and deliver nutritious meals to three or four thousand homebound seniors and other vulnerable residents across Los Angeles every day of the year. They even tailor the meals to meet the dietary needs of the folks. They serve anyone in need who lives within their service area regardless of age, illness, disability, race, religion or ability to pay.. There is no waiting list, and since 1977 the mission has not changed. The program accepts no public funding and relies entirely on private donations and foundations. (Hey, in slightly altered circumstances, I could well be one of the recipients.) Yes, Meals on Wheels is like life-support-on-wheels for many, and they deliver so many essentials that go beyond home delivery. The clients and employees are like a giant family, with special remembrances for birthdays and holidays. Compassion is the keynote.
I met one of the 'clients' the other day and she quietly said to me, "Without Meals of Wheels, I could not survive. When I was released from the hospital, I came home to an empty house. I had no cash and no idea how I was going to exist. St. Vincents Meals of Wheels came into my life and have given me food for my body and for my soul." I first encountered Meals on Wheels almost 40 years ago because of Chef Wolfgang Puck and his then wife, Barbara Lazaroff. They had just opened Spago on Sunset Blvd., and were hosting a small benefit in their parking lot for this new project which a nun named Sister Alice had told them about. (Wolf once told me that they actually lost money on that first benefit 'cause so many people walked off with their silverware. Over the years they have raised millions of dollars for the charity.)
I met Sister Sam then and we have stayed in touch ever since. On Saturday night, we celebrated her 80th birthday and Wolfgang was a special guest at the Meals on Wheels benefit at the Montage. They raised some $600,000 this evening, the start of an 80-day "Thanks a Million, SAM" campaign with a million dollar fundraising goal. I was seated with a charming fellow named Cliff Nguyen, the General Sales Manager for BMW of Beverly Hills, and he told me that they are now joining the campaign. I told him that I was mightily impressed by the all-electric BMW at the hotel entrance.
Sister and I shared a glass of champagne (yes, she occasionally drinks; "it's not a sin") and she told me that they have delivered almost 30 million meals in the intervening years, traveling 5 million miles in the process. LL Cool J, a staunch supporter, came by at that moment and said to me, "Do you have any idea how many lives Sister Sam has changed for the better." I just nodded. Yes, I knew.
If you want to help, keep in mind that one of the next events will be at the wonderful Evening on the Beach Thursday, August 6th, at the Jonathan Club, with a fabulous beach party. Contact Joan Wrede at firstname.lastname@example.org to participate as a sponsor or for tickets.
I end this heartfelt note with a psalm I remember from my youth: (Psalm 132:15)..."I will bless her with abundant provisions; her poor will I satisfy with food." Amen.
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