Story of Justice: The Kitchen Table

Sister Jean Abbott Supports Women Helping Women 

by Sister Mary Flick, CSJ
Justice Coordinator

Plenty of life’s difficulties have been resolved around a kitchen table. So the Kitchen Table is a natural name for a program that aims to help women help each find confidence and independence, while serving a home-cooked meal.

The Kitchen Table is the brainchild of Sister Jean Abbott’s friend and roommate, Angie O’Gorman. Each Thursday at Epiphany United Church of Christ, in South St. Louis, a small group of women meet to discuss life’s current challenges and support one another. Then they take turns cooking their favorite meal, while the others assist in the kitchen or ready the church hall for their lunch guests. At 11:30 the doors open for lunch with a homemade entree, salad and dessert. The women greet the diners and serve the meal. Meals are complete by 1 p.m. most weeks.

“The women are forming and strengthening community among themselves,” S. Jean says. “This lunch pulls them together, uses their ideas. They study the protocols for running a restaurant, they are learning budgeting.” Then, S. Jean says, alluding to her essential role in the enterprise, “They give me a grocery list and I can’t go over budget.”

S. Jean does the weekly shopping for the Kitchen Table. “I go to Aldi’s or Restaurant Depot. If it can’t get what they need there, they don’t get it.”

Maintaining the budget is important to this fledgling effort. The lunch “never breaks even,” S. Jean says. In addition to the cost of groceries each week, the women receive a small stipend for their work. The homemade lunch is just $8.50 or $10 for a special meal or buffet. The lunch program is in its fourth year, and has nearly exhausted its grant from Mary’s Pence.

 But S. Jean considers the cost an investment in the lives of these women who otherwise would find little support. “They are affected people, women who have suffered and carry the results of that. They are still unemployable full time.  These women have known lots of abuse. One spent time in jail. Another lives with an abusive husband. Another is disabled. The group deals with their emotional and social disabilities. And they have formed a community that keeps them going as persons and as professionals.”

 In addition to the shopping, S. Jean says, “I go in and give hugs. I’m secondary support for Angie, who listens to them when they are going through hard times.

 “These women have found their own dignity, their own ability to form community, and their own professionalism.”

A trauma therapist, S. Jean says she has given a workshop on stress management and how to manage anger, helping them identify what is post-trauma and how trauma colors what a person sees.

Sometimes the women speak of breaking out and doing more. One idea that’s been discussed is starting a catering business.

S. Jean says she sees her work with The Kitchen Table as a way of concretely living out one of the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Maxims. “One of our Maxims says something like, ‘Work until the last minute, then turn it over to someone else who will get the credit.’ I understand it to mean, ‘Do what you can until someone has the means to do what they can, then give it to them.’ We [Sisters of St. Joseph] are not to be martyrs, but to provide the support we can, with privileges we have, until the people has the skills to do it themselves, then graciously let them take it over.”

 S. Jean sees this as an important practice of the CSJs, especially in their later years.

 “As Sisters of St. Joseph, we are learning this as a community – not always leading, but graciously serving – and giving a lot of love.”

Epiphany United Church of Christ is located at 2911 McNair. For lunch on Thursdays, call 314-728-9800. Reservations are appreciated, but not required. Carry-out is also available. Cash only, please.


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