Ignatian Volunteer Fe C. Varquez had a surprising encounter with a client at the food pantry where she serves in Los Angeles.
“I’ve been at the Juan Diego Center for four years. I had just come back from my summer break. I saw Miguel, a homeless man, walk into to the food pantry. His face lit up immediately and he gave me the broadest smile and a hug. ‘Good to see you again!’ he said. His face brightened.”
“I felt so elated. I had the sense that here I’m making a difference with somebody.”
“Then I questioned myself. What could I have possibly done to make this person light up? It made me realize that my presence is important. The work of distributing food is almost secondary. Afterwards, I had to pray over this and let it sink in.”
Catholic Charities’ Juan Diego Center in El Monte, CA serves 13,000 homeless and low-income people annually with wraparound and emergency services. Fe’s responsibilities include assembling food bags for the pantry, distributing them, responding to emergency assistance requests, preparing adults for job interviews, and more. Her husband Ben is also an Ignatian Volunteer there, where he teaches English classes to adults.
“I am very grateful. Being connected in service to the materially needy has taught me so much. I keep developing my understanding of Jesus’s words. It gives me a personal understanding of the Beatitudes.”
Prior to becoming a Volunteer, Fe was active with IVC Los Angeles on the Regional Council. She has a background in Ignatian Spirituality and also works in spiritual direction with graduate students at Loyola Marymount University. “Before, service to the materially poor was a concept and an important ideal, but I wanted to have the first-hand experience. To get my feet wet – immersion. Once I started, I’ve never turned back. Now I can truly relate to the Gospel ideals.”
“The IVC required reading this year is Fr. Greg Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart. There is one chapter that is so full of inspiring thoughts. I’ve been reading and praying on it and mining all that is in it. He frames the Jesuit theme of ‘being a person for others’ as not being for others, but instead being a person one with others. I’ve been reading this over again to think about it in my service. When I give food to the hungry, am I looking in their eyes and giving compassion? Or am I being one with them and erasing boundaries? Am I standing with them in their poverty, drawing them into me as Jesus did when he healed the leper, when he touched them before healing them?”
The food that Fe distributes serves families’ immediate material needs. But Fe sees a second purpose to her work at the pantry. She is very intentional in her interactions with those who come for food. “It’s another way of showing compassion”, she says. “My being there for them is a way for them to realize that God loves them. The negative things that they feel about themselves can be erased. Receiving compassion makes them feel that they’re not less important than anyone else. They can thank God for the good in themselves and around them. I am thankful for this opportunity.”