*Names have been changed to protect guests’ privacy
The look on Jean Victor’s face said it all. Dropped jaw, wide eyes with a glisten of moisture. In the 16 years he had been working with guests managing the operations of the Mary Brennan INN soup kitchen in various capacities, rarely does one return quite so triumphantly, but with a humble strength.
Erin* was about 12 years old when she started coming to the soup kitchen for a regular hot meal. Her parents and five siblings were frequent visitors, and the children got to know the staff quite well, mostly over the summer when school was out and free breakfast and lunch programs ended. Now 23 years old, Erin, a law student came back to the soup kitchen with her fellow group of young professionals to donate food from a drive they organized after hearing her story of the struggle she experienced growing up. The group was so moved by the idea of Erin’s success through adversity that they decided to adopt The INN as their charity of choice.
As for Erin, as she quietly took a tour of the facility from a vastly different perspective than she remembered, her facial expression was one of shock. She described her experience of literally being on the other side of the counter as “surreal,” but didn’t want to share much more. That’s ok. The INN’s philosophy of serving hungry and homeless Long Islanders with dignity, respect and love is practiced with great care. When she saw Jean Victor and remembered him from her childhood days she told him, “I was hoping you would be here,” and they embraced. Few words were spoken, but it was clear that Jean was thrilled to see how far she had come. “I was speechless,” Jean said. “I recognized her right away, but she’s all grown up now. It’s so impressive that not only is she a successful young adult, but she found the strength to return and give back to a place that helped her and her family through some tough times. I’m so glad she came back and let me know she was doing well.”