“It Was An Experience of Joy”…Talking with Mary Ann Renn
To mark the 40th anniversary of Toni’s Kitchen in 2022, we are doing a series of interviews with current and former volunteers, supporters, and friends of Toni’s to talk about the history and the future of Toni’s Kitchen. These interviews will be published throughout the year on our website at toniskitchen.org.
Mary Ann Renn was a parishioner at St. Luke’s Church who started volunteering at Toni’s Kitchen in the early 2000’s. Eventually, she ended up running the operation at Toni’s and was involved in a number of major changes during her time.
When she began in her role of running the kitchen, she remembers searching her mind for what the mission of Toni’s Kitchen should be.
“I was just going forth in faith that this is where I was supposed to be,” she said. “The message came through loud and clear, ‘Serve the guests.’ Simply that. ‘Serve the guests.’”
The concept of having the guests sit down and be served their meal began during Mary Ann’s time. She says it changed Toni’s for the better.
“It was that simple action that changed the feeling because the guests felt honored,” she says. “They felt respected. They felt served. It created a time when the guests could communicate with one another.”
Mary Ann says that like today, the guests at Toni’s Kitchen came from all walks of life and varied experiences. She feels Toni’s really helped guests improve their lives. She recalls one regular guest who came to Toni’s during some difficult times for him.
“To this day, I am still friends with this man who has since moved out of state, has a job, has a room, and is happy and feeling very good about himself,” she says. “I feel very good that some of the influence that Toni's Kitchen had help to right his life.”
Just like Toni’s Kitchen today, guests were offered more than soup. There was a lending library and scheduled time for board game and cards for the guests. And Mary Ann recalls fondly the celebrations that the volunteers and the guests enjoyed together in the kitchen—anniversaries, dancing to live music and birthdays.
“One woman said ‘Mary Ann, this is the first birthday that I’ve had a celebration like this.’”
For Mary Ann, volunteering at Toni’s Kitchen was a labor of love.
“It was an experience of joy,” she says. “It was a time when honoring them, serving them, getting to know them as people just like you and I, I came to appreciate all of the guests so much, and I came to understand that they among themselves had a wonderful, wonderful community and that they helped one another, they were concerned about one another.”