“Choice Means Dignity”

Local volunteer Vanessa Sprad at Café Esperanza. Source: Living Lutheran

Sometimes just having options is a power that brings hope and life. At Café Esperanza, bringing this type of hope is core to who they are.

A ministry of Hope Lutheran Church in Reading, Pennslyvannia, Café Esperanza serves a city of approximately 88,000 where the median household income is $32,000 and one-third of the residents live in poverty.

“This isn’t a soup kitchen where people get in line and are getting whatever we give you,” said chef and kitchen manager Angelique Gilyard. “We give the people the choice in what they have. You can have your sandwich toasted if you want, the whole sandwich or just the bread. If you want soup, great. If you want to take your meal home, that’s fine.”

Founded by Mary Wolfe, the former pastor of Hope Lutheran, Café Esperanza grew out of a once a week community meal time the church began offering more than seven years ago.

“We also have a food pantry on Tuesdays, and we would worship around tables,” Mary said, “but it always felt like a soup kitchen. We had built community, but we wanted something different, something high-quality.”

The name “Café Esperanza” is Spanish taken from the Spanish language and translates as “hope café.” A part of the One World Everybody Eats (OWEE) network, the café uses a pay-what-you-can model. Not all Individuals are able to pay full price but paying-what-you-can everyone is conscious of the ministry work the café is doing and more affluent diners are able to contribute more underwriting cost of running the ministry while respecting the dignity of every diner.

Emily Wolfe, Mary’s daughter and the café’s current director said, “We wanted to open in spring 2020 but, due to COVID, we had to postpone for a year. During that year, we shifted the focus to serving meals in our parking lot, along with some deliveries. Everything was free, though we did occasionally receive donations.

“Angelique made restaurant meals to-go twice a week—we served more than 10,000 of them—and we forged a relationship with our neighborhood. Volunteers baked for us, farms brought us bountiful organic produce, and some local businesses were very generous with their products.”

In addition to serving up sandwiches, soups, rice bowls, and salads, Café Esperanza offers fair-trade coffee from local coffee shop. Staffed principally by volunteers, the café is open from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM, Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

In the coming months post the pandemic, the church hopes to expand its hours to include a weekend brunch option.

Source: Living Lutheran