While bright-blue coolers filled to the brim with sausage patties and 20 gallon bins overflowing with donated clothes sit in the John Carroll University vans, a group of 20 students gather together in Rodman Chapel for a brief reflection before heading out into the streets of downtown Cleveland.
Their destinations are sidewalk grates, tents in the woods and camps under the over-passes. They are headed to the“homes” of the homeless. They call themselves the Labre Project and they do this every Friday.
Labre was started in 2003 at St. Ignatius, an all-boys Jesuit high school in Cleveland.
Named for St. Benedict Joseph Labre, the patron saint of the homeless, the project began as a weekly soup kitchen on wheels. In 2004, Labre was brought to John Carroll by Ignatius alumni Bryan Mauk, Brendan McLaughlin and Jodie Bowers.
The John Carroll vans go out on Friday nights, and haven’t missed a Friday in 258 weeks. Now, five years old, Labre is as popular as ever. Most weekly sign-up sheets, which are put up on Monday outside the Campus Ministry office, are filled by Wednesday, with spots in the van almost as in demand as Homecoming tickets. This is all in the name of service.
“The mission of Labre is to provide food and friendship to the homeless of Cleveland. Through the meal, clothing and hygiene products we bring we begin to make connections with the homeless that develop into true friendships,” said JCU graduate student Kelly White, a former president of Labre.
Although she initially went out on Labre as a monthly outing, as her relationships with her “friends on the street” grew she found herself attending on a weekly basis.
Labre participants are not only encouraged to help feed and clothe the homeless of Cleveland; they also try to make a connection with those they meet.
“When I’m at my lowest, it might just be me, but a PB&J sandwich just doesn’t do the trick. Our mission could be to feed the homeless, but it isn’t. Our mission is to be a friend, so that we don’t just fill their belly with food, but their hearts with friendship and laughter,” said Ryan McCullough, the vice president of Labre. “We keep a joking attitude because we’re not a serve organization. We are just friends giving friends a hand.”
Sophomore Shawn Cain enjoys Labre specifically for the relationships. Cain said, “It’s just hanging out with my friends. I get to laugh, cry, tell stories and have a good time. What more could I ask for?”
To see how much of a family the Labre group has become, one only has to look as far as the annual Labrepalooza.
“We invite all of our homeless friends to join us at one of the Edgewater Park Pavilions for the evening. We have a cook-out, play games, listen to music and just spend time together,” said White.
Labrepalooza is not the typical Labre experience. It is, in essence, a huge barbeque that provides a forum where even more connections can be made. At Labrepalooza homeless individuals from all over the city have the opportunity to visit with each other as wells as an even larger number of John Carroll students, faculty and staff.
Last year’s event brought a crowd of over 125 people, and this year being the fifth anniversary, those numbers are expected to be even greater. This year’s Labrepalooza will be held at Edgewater Park on Oct. 2.
It will mark the 260th consecutive week that the JCU Labre Project has brought food and friendship to the homeless of Cleveland. The event is open to the entire John Carroll community and transportation will be provided.
It is not hard to understand why when asked what’s the one thing a student should make sure to try before graduation Abby Gehring, a senior and a Labre Core Team member, said,“ Go out on Labre. Seriously. On Friday nights when I’m not on Labre, I want to be on Labre and when I am on Labre there’s no place I’d rather be.”
It is a unique experience that you can take with you for the rest of your life, and it is never too late to try it.
For more information about Labrepalooza or the Labre Project in general email firstname.lastname@example.org.