Bridge Ministry partners with Catholic Charities

The effort to feed the homeless, founded by Deacon Scott and Christine Maentz, will continue

By Gabrielle Nolan

After nearly nine years of ministry of feeding Knoxville’s homeless, Deacon Scott and Christine Maentz have handed over the reins of their local ministry.

Bridge Ministry serves food on the fourth Sunday of each month at Knox Area Rescue Ministries (KARM) in downtown Knoxville, located at 418 N. Broadway.

The husband-and-wife duo, who moved to Florida in April for retirement, were parishioners at Holy Ghost in Knoxville, where Deacon Maentz served.

Youth volunteers help with condiments in the food line in the KARM courtyard, where Bridge Ministry serves food to the homeless. (Photo courtesy of Bridge Ministry)

They leave behind a team of volunteers that is eager to continue the mission of Bridge Ministry. This time, however, the ministry will run under Catholic Charities of East Tennessee (CCETN).

Deacon Dave Duhamel, executive director of CCETN, said that operationally, most people will not see changes with the ministry.

“Bridge Ministry will be led by DeeDee and Tom Quinones as CCETN Ministry volunteer leaders,” Deacon Duhamel said. “CCETN will serve as the sponsoring and supporting agency—providing assistance and infrastructure in the areas of logistics and finances so that the work will continue uninterrupted. This ministry will remain entirely volunteer-based with designated donations going directly to Bridge Ministry.”

Mr. and Mrs. Quinones are parishioners at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Knoxville, but they also attend Holy Ghost.

They have been involved with Bridge Ministry since the beginning, with Mrs. Quinones organizing volunteers and goods, and Mr. Quinones cooking hot dogs on his hot dog cart.

The couple said they “wanted to teach our children to see the other side of life.”

April 28 was the first Sunday with Mr. and Mrs. Quinones leading the operation with CCETN.

“We are very sad but of course happy for them,” Mrs. Quinones said of the Maentz family. “We look forward to continuing what Deacon and Christine have created.”

Deacon Maentz said that leaving Bridge Ministry behind is “bittersweet.”

Volunteers serve desserts and fruit in the KARM courtyard. (Photo courtesy Bridge Ministry)

“It’s sweet in the sense that it was probably time for somebody else to take it over. We’ve been doing this for a long time, and you know, ministry can be difficult after a while,” he said. “It’s bitter in the sense that we put almost eight years of our life into this, and it’s hard to let it go. But on the other hand, I’m so happy that it found a home under Catholic Charities. It’s the perfect place for it, and Deacon Dave is a good friend of mine, and I know he’s going to do a super job…And DeeDee and Tom Quinones have been fantastic.”

The transition leads to new service opportunities for CCETN, for which the organization is grateful.

“What can anyone say about the two founders—Deacon Scott and Christine—that would truly honor them appropriately?” Deacon Duhamel said. “They have done so much and given of themselves tirelessly and lovingly. Deacon Scott and Christine have been the driving force, the loving hands and feet of Jesus, the smiling, love-filled leaders of this ministry. …Their absence will be felt by all who have been graced by their presence.”

Catholic Charities is accepting legacy gifts in honor of Deacon and Mrs. Maentz.

“We would like to offer, to the hundreds of individuals who have volunteered and supported Deacon Scott and Christine, an opportunity to partner in the continued growth and sustainability of Bridge Ministry,” Deacon Duhamel shared.

Bridge Ministry aligns with the mission of Catholic Charities because “we are serving and expressing Christ’s merciful love in the small, yet impactful act of feeding and bringing comfort to those neighbors who are experiencing housing and food insecurity,” Deacon Duhamel said.

“We may not be able to solve all of the world and community’s big problems, but we meet people where they are and demonstrate our love for them,” he continued.

As this ministry enters a new chapter, Mrs. Quinones shared that they “are not looking to change anything.”

“We feel what Deacon has done is beyond what normal people do and want to keep it going,” she said.

Humble beginnings

Bridge Ministry began in December 2015 at the prompting of Mrs. Maentz, who had the desire to serve sandwiches on Christmas Day to the homeless under the bridge downtown by KARM.

“I tell people that I reluctantly went to help her; she dragged me kicking and screaming to do this on Christmas Day,” Deacon Maentz said. “So, really she’s the motivating force behind this ministry; that’s how it got started. We made peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches Christmas Eve. We brought 100-110 sandwiches down, we brought coffee, we got some donations, we brought some doughnuts and some fruit, and we just pulled in underneath the overpass. It was pouring rain.”

Bridge Ministry held a going-away party at the Chancery in Knoxville for Deacon Scott Maentz and wife Christine, who have moved to Florida. (Photo Bill Brewer)

Despite the weather, people showed up and formed a line outside of the van as food was distributed.

“We then realized that there was something important here,” Deacon Maentz said. “So, I realized that the Lord was involved in this, that it was something He wanted me to do. I was still in formation for the diaconate—I hadn’t been ordained yet in 2015. My ordination date was June 11, 2016. It was important that I have a ministry, a diaconal ministry, and it felt like this was it.”

Deacon Maentz approached Knights of Columbus Council 5207 at the cathedral, asking if members would be interested in supporting his ministry. After a resounding yes, the group met once a month to make sandwiches.

“A bunch of people would come, and somebody would bring bread, and somebody would bring peanut butter, or whatever it was the type of sandwich we were making. …And we’d make these hygiene kits with various hygiene items, toothbrushes, toothpaste, things like that. And everybody kind of contributed something. We made the sandwiches, and then we’d all go down as a group together and set up our tables under the bridge where Christine and I had served on Christmas Day and hand out the sandwiches and hygiene kits that we had made. So, that was really the real beginning of it, when we started to get other people from the diocese involved, and it started with the Knights of Columbus,” Deacon Maentz shared.

In the beginning months of the ministry, food items were donated, but eventually Deacon Maentz decided to switch to a model of monetary donations.

Tom Quinones and wife DeeDee (left) and Deacon Scott Maentz and wife Christine are pictured at the Chancery. (Photo Bill Brewer)

“Sometimes you would have too much of one thing, not enough of another, when people were making donations,” he explained. “And so we kind of moved to a model where we asked people instead of bringing food, if you wanted to make a monetary donation, and then I would go shopping once a month and buy what we actually needed.”

Eventually, the ministry became a 501(c)(3) under the Diocese of Knoxville. Also, the location changed from under the bridge, which was not a desirable location to serve food, to the courtyard of KARM, which provides running water and electricity.

Typically, 20 to 30 volunteers show up to help serve food and interact with the homeless. There is no required registration to sign up, but minors do need to come with an adult in order to volunteer.

Every serving begins with prayer.

“We start with a prayer, and we ask that God bless us, bless the food, and that we’re able to see Christ in all those that we’re serving,” Deacon Maentz said. “Jesus said that which you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me. And so we took that literally, and we believe that we were serving our Lord in the people that we served. … We would [pray] right there where we served, and we’d have all of our volunteers kind of gathered around, but we’d also invite the people standing in line to join us. Just about everyone knows the Our Father, so we would always conclude with an Our Father, and then I would give everybody a blessing.”

Often, there were more volunteers than needed to serve food, so several volunteers would go out and sit with the homeless and enjoy conversation.

“People would go out and sit down with people, listen to their story, and often pray with them,” Deacon Maentz shared. “I know several times people have asked me to pray with them for something that is going on. But mostly just listening and having somebody listen to them and understand them. And we found that people who are experiencing homelessness, they are just people that have had very regular lives. Some of whom have even been people that in their past life were looked up to and admired and had big jobs, but because of whatever circumstance, be it addiction, be it unemployment, be it a fallout with their family, they ended up on the street.”

Bridge Ministry will next distribute food at 11 a.m. Sunday, June 23, at KARM. All are welcome to volunteer.

“It affords the volunteers and parishioners from various parishes the opportunity to spend time with their less fortunate neighbors and experience a communion of love and meal with them,” Deacon Duhamel said. “It is also an opportunity and gift to recognize the face of Jesus in every person we encounter—especially in those we may not encounter or engage with on a frequent basis.”

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