Maine is the most beautiful place in the world. I have lived in Maine since 1969 and traveled to most of its nooks and corners over the years. My favorite place in Maine is St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen in Portland. Every Monday morning, I walk in the door and I feel privileged and honored to be a part of such a wonderful family of volunteers and guests.

I have the pleasure to serve and greet a microcosm of the world with a team of volunteers from all over the Portland area. Volunteers arrive early to prepare the soup, make sandwiches and salads, cut desserts, prepare bag lunches, sort the many boxes of food from generous stores in the area and set up the tables and chairs. It all happens seamlessly with smiles on everyone’s faces.

I can only share my experience at the soup kitchen. I often introduce myself to clients and tell them my first name, “Mary Lou.” I have my regulars, who I greet by their first names. How special to look into their eyes and ask them how they are doing. If they are early, I will bring them a cup of coffee and a snack, especially during the recent cold, miserable winter, and chat with them.

My heart and soul are filled with joy as I scurry from table to table with trays of soup, sandwich, dessert and a drink for each guest. There is always a “Thank you” and praise for the soup kitchen and its staff of volunteers.

Most have a great sense of humor. I mention to one guest that “he could bring it home,” and he chuckled and smiled and said, “I don’t have a home!” Even though I felt embarrassed, he made me smile and I apologized.

I step back and observe the rhythm of the room. Everyone is smiling and going about their routines in harmony and joy. We have guests from all corners of the world.

Someone might ask for mittens for his wife, telling me they were stolen last night. I found one pair, and they were purple. The man’s eyes lit up and he said, “Thank you! Purple is my wife’s favorite color.”

A man might need a jacket and a hat because he just arrived in Portland. Clothes are distributed on Friday, but if you’re cold on Monday, you need it now. The question each volunteer asks when there is a decision to make: “What would Jesus do?” The answers come quickly and easily.

When I leave the soup kitchen each Monday, my eyes sparkle and my heart is overflowing with love and contentment. Maine has a beautiful coastline, majestic mountains and flowing rivers, but St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen in Portland will always be my favorite place in Maine.

— Special to the Telegram