The most important meal of the day

Sean Tucker fed hundreds of people this week. What did you do?

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Tim vonHolten / lawrence.com

A waiter's eye view of Sean Tucker in the Jubliee Cafe.

If you've previously limited your philanthropy to bludgeoning mobile phone users or breaking the windows of pharmaceutical representatives' Hummers, you may need to reconsider your level of involvement. Although these are certainly valuable societal offerings, there are other ways - surprisingly, even legal ways - to contribute to the betterment of humanity.

Take Sean Tucker. Since working his first Kiwanis pancake feed at the age of 10, Sean has been consistently involved in the practice of helping people. After that initial flapjack epiphany, Sean went on to volunteer for the Special Olympics, aided in highway cleanup, and helped build a daycare center for children of high school- and college-age mothers. And this is all before graduating from high school in 2000.

Currently 22 years of age, Sean is a full-time KU student and the kitchen manager at the Jubilee Cafe, a community kitchen that has been serving breakfast to the homeless for nine years. Founded by Reverend Joe Alford and Clark Keffer, Jubilee Cafe was created to bring the issues of homelessness, poverty, and hunger closer to students at KU. The program started out with three to four people eating; currently, the cafe feeds 115 to 130 people twice a week.

Although functioning under the auspices of the Episcopal Church, the cafe operates in the basement of the First United Methodist Church (946 Vermont St.), with offices at Canterbury House (1116 Louisiana St.). Breakfast is served at 7 a.m. on Tuesday and Friday, and is restaurant-style, meaning that the patrons (or guests, or customers; restaurant terms are always used) order from a menu, have choices of item and preparation, and are served by wait staff. Sean makes it clear, however, that Jubilee Cafe is more than a food source.

"We don't only serve food. We serve dignity with their food," says Sean. "We give them someone to have a conversation with... We also help them find jobs here. [The person] who works at our table, and has been working our table for years hands out free coupons for clothing if they need it. We have a lot of things available. ... There's one man who's been coming here for years, and he plays the piano for us every single day after he gets done eating, and that just makes him feel so much better, the fact that he can give back to us while we're working."

And it's not just the cafe's guests who benefit.

"It's a very educational opportunity for the college students. It's a place where they can actually come in, work for the patrons that come in here, sit and eat with them, and actually hear stories that they probably would never hear anywhere else, especially in college classes."

Although many of Jubilee Cafe's volunteers are provided by the Center for Community Outreach at KU, anyone is encouraged to volunteer their time, especially during breaks when KU students are unavailable. No advance notice is needed, and training is provided on the job. And there's no sweaty man with a menacing cutting implement barking orders across a serving window.

"It's a pretty easygoing environment. Everyone knows they're here to do something very special, and so it's not very intense," says Sean.

As might be expected, funding is one of the major hurdles at the Jubilee Cafe. It costs $370 per week to keep the operation running, and although organizations and individuals make contributions in addition to grants received from government agencies, Sean says that the best potential resource is education.

"I find a large problem in America with individuals having their own personal bubble, so to speak, and these bubbles continuously get larger as communication sources get easier and individual contact gets more scarce. And so with these bubbles they don't interact with real sources, and they don't interact with real news, and I consider real news what these KU students are getting every morning when they come and volunteer here," Sean says.

"If people did realize this and really opened up to these situations, I think that they'd understand that there are other things we need to spend our time and efforts on rather than foreign policy necessarily, and international trade, and world dominance, and SUVs, oil trade, just a number of things. We have so many resources here, especially in the hearts of Americans, but they're hidden in these bubbles."

But Sean Tucker isn't one to let this, or anything, keep him from the work he was born to do. After finishing his studies at KU and two years at clinical laboratory science school, he hopes to live in Africa and work for the Peace Corps.

"I really believe in ideas of karma, and what you give will come back to you. I can keep giving and giving and -- even though life may be treating me bad right now -- if I can give, I can make other people happy, and by doing that it comes back and makes me happy in the end."

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