Filling Sophia’s Lunch Boxes helps to feed the hungry Jesus in downtown Peoria

MacKenzie Brown, a confirmation student from St. John Parish in Woodhull, affixes a sticker giving instructions for the use and return of a Sophia's Lunch Box during a recent day of service at Sophia's Kitchen in Peoria. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Jesus is hungry.

The volunteers at Sophia’s Kitchen in downtown Peoria see him in 300 to 700 faces every day as they place sandwiches, nutritious snacks and something warm to drink into waiting hands, and words of encouragement and prayer into aching hearts.

This Lent, they’re inviting you to help by filling Sophia’s Lunch Box and “put your fasting into action.”

“They look like the little box lunch that you get when you go to almost anything here at the Spalding Pastoral Center,” explained Msgr. Stanley Deptula, pastor of the four parishes in the Heart of Peoria Catholic Community. “We are encouraging people, like Rice Bowl, to drop in spare change — maybe give up a cup of coffee from one of those fancy coffee shops.”

Elizabeth Junk, a confirmation student from St. John in Woodhull, holds one of the Sophia’s Lunch Boxes she and her classmates completed in preparation for the beginning of Lent during a recent day of service at Sophia’s Kitchen. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Some families may even choose to skip a meal or have a very simple meal and donate that money to “our brothers and sisters right in our own community.”

“Your hunger can help someone who is hungry. Your voluntary giving up of sweets, of coffee, of a night out, can change someone’s life,” Msgr. Deptula said. “As St. Therese of Lisieux reminds us, it’s those little sacrifices done with great love that can change the world.”

He emphasized that this is not designed to take the place of Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl, however.

“The Rice Bowl is amazing and we always have to support foreign missions. This is not to distract from needs around the world,” Msgr. Deptula said, noting that as a child he took joy in figuring out how to construct his Rice Bowl and placing his coins into it during Lent.

“But I think all of us drive around Peoria or walk downtown and you see the hungry. Sometimes you don’t know what to do,” he acknowledged. “This is how we help people. If you want to feed the hungry Jesus in Peoria, this is a way to do that.”


Sophia’s Lunch Boxes will be available on Ash Wednesday after the Masses and prayer services with ashes at the four churches in the Heart of Peoria Catholic Community: St. Mary’s Cathedral, 607 N.E. Madison Ave.; St. Bernard, 509 E. Kansas St.; Sacred Heart, 504 Fulton St.; and St. Joseph, 103 Richard Pryor Place. Those who are interested may also pick up a lunch box at one of these churches on the First Sunday of Lent. (For a listing of Masses on either day, visit

After Easter, the lunch boxes and their contents or checks made payable to Sophia’s Kitchen may be returned to the parish office at Sacred Heart Church, 504 Fulton St., Peoria, IL 61602. To donate online, visit the Sophia’s Lunch Box page at

Msgr. Deptula said he hopes this initiative will make serving the poor “very real and very local.”

Claire Crone, director of Sophia’s Kitchen, and the 155 volunteers there see that reality every day. She said their patrons are facing rent increases and without the means to make up the difference, some are being evicted from their longtime homes.

Day work is becoming increasingly difficult to find, she added, since layoffs by some of the area’s large employers have put workers with more experience into the hiring pool.

Some will never recover from the poverty they were born into, Crone explained.

“Everyone wants you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and that’s an admirable thought,” she said. “But a lot has been dealt to them and no one in their family was able to show them the way out.”

Sophia’s Lunch Box will keep the donations within the community and “when you keep it here you can walk in the door and see where it goes,” Crone said.



SPALDING PASTORAL CENTER | 419 NE MADISON AVENUE | PEORIA, IL 61603 | PHONE (309) 671-1550 | FAX (309) 671-1595
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