Mary and Rick Thickens were among the group from St. Christopher’s Church that was organized to volunteer at the St. James site on the first anniversary of the Gathering’s opening, late January 1983. Rick and Mary quickly became regular volunteers. “We went a couple of times and it did not take long for us to get hooked” Mary explains. Over the years, Rick and Mary have served as volunteers, board members, lead, floor and kitchen coordinators, cooks, produce preservers and just about any volunteer role they could fill. When their children, Laura and Richard, were six and nine years old, they became a part of the family business of volunteering with the Gathering as well. Laura explains that when she started volunteering with the Gathering at age six, her regular spot was on the serving line handing out sugar packets, cookies and plenty of smiles. Over the years Laura has filled in as a kitchen/floor coordinator and has served on the board for close to ten years. Laura is the Gathering’s current board secretary. For Mary, Rick and their children, the Gathering has become an:
“integral part of our family culture, and that is cool.” Rick explains, “Our children may not have had much choice in whether or not to participate when they were young. I am proud that they have chosen to continue that participation as adults. In the not too distant future, the third generation of our family will be passing out sugar packets to guests. That, too is cool.”
For this dedicated family, the Gathering holds many special moments and memories. Mary explained a significant moment from her past related to the Gathering:
“My daughter (when she was around 10 or 11) and I went to a street level coffee shop at Grand Avenue for some hot chocolate because it was a very cold day. Several of our Gathering guests came inside briefly to get warm, and my daughter said good morning to each and called them by name. I realized that to her these were not ‘homeless people,’ but individual people whom she knew from her Saturdays at the Gathering.”
Laura also shared a memory related to being a mother:
“Not long after I had my first child, I was volunteering at the Saturday lunch program. A woman came through the line with her two young children so I offered to help her carry their trays. As I walked with them to the table I couldn’t help but see this family through my new maternal perspective. With all the many worries that come with being a mom, I can’t even imagine how hard it must be to have food security be one of those concerns, and at that moment I felt so humbled and fortunate to be part of an organization that allowed this mother to know she could provide a warm, healthy meal for her children even when she didn’t have the means to make it herself. This was almost six years ago now, but it was such an impactful experience for me that I can still remember exactly what they all looked like and where they sat that day.”
Rick also explained friendships he formed with guests, including guest-turned-staff Gary Giedlinski, who taught Rick how to cook. In addition, Rick shared an interesting story of the day he created a meal out of 50 pounds of donated emu necks. With the help of other volunteers, he was able to boil the meat off the bone and add it to the daily dish. When all was said and done, it tasted just like turkey!
From sugar packets and smiles to emu necks and board meetings, the versatile Thickens family has been a blessing to the Gathering. We are grateful for Richard, Rick, Laura, Mary and Jason for their years of dedicated, compassionate service.