Meet Debbie Robertson
Debbie Robertson

Debbie Robertson has been showing up faithfully to Emmaus Ministries for over two decades as both a soup kitchen and food pantry volunteer. Emmaus staff member Sister Valerie Luckey interviewed Debbie on a Tuesday morning at the food pantry.

Sister Val: When did you get involved at Emmaus? How did you get involved?
Debbie: I started volunteering at the soup kitchen around 1998. One of my friends was volunteering with a group of teachers, and she said to me, “We could really use some help.” I started serving dinner one or two Wednesdays each month. Sisters Claire and Lucia decided they wanted to take some time off from cooking at the kitchen, so they asked our team leader if she wanted to cook a few times each month as well. It just kept blossoming from there because a few years later, Sister Claire told me that they needed help signing up new guests at the food pantry. And here we are now, I’m still here!

What do you do as a food pantry volunteer each week?
I originally helped re-signing guests since they have to register for the pantry each year. After that, I started accompanying people who were coming here for the first time; I taught them how the food line works. Right now I work on the line, passing out items. I told Catherine, the pantry coordinator: “Just give me a job and I’ll do it. A volunteer is a volunteer for a reason.”

Why do you think your heart is so committed to Emmaus?
My mother was very committed to giving back to the community; I saw her example early on. She volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, and she was a mentor in the community. There were some girls that needed guidance, so she worked with them. You know, there was always a need, and I see the same thing now.

I began volunteering doing therapeutic riding with horses a while back. After that I started volunteering at Emmaus. And here, there is such a need. I see all the people who come through the line, and I know there is such a food shortage in this neighborhood. The little bit that we can do here reminds me of what Mother Teresa says, “If you can’t feed one thousand, just feed one.” I try to do that when I am here on Monday and Tuesday morning. At one point, I was trying to do too many things, and Sister Lucia said to me, “We rescue one person at a time.” So now, the person standing in front of me is the one who gets my total presence.

Sometimes I leave here, and I am still frustrated that there are so many people who don’t have food on their table, that there are so many women and young girls who don’t have feminine products or mothers who come through the line desperate for diapers. I have always had everything I needed. I don’t really have a reason for volunteering here except that I know it’s where I want to be each week.

You mentioned a few needs that you see while volunteering. Are there any other needs that you see for our guests?
In the winter time, it’s gloves and socks. It’s definitely gloves and socks. So, I go to the Dollar Store in November, and I pick up every pair of gloves off their shelves. A woman came into the food pantry one morning and gave me her hands; they were so cold when I felt them. Our guests can’t afford that dollar. Then, I look at my drawer and I see 40 pairs of socks. I can give something to them, and I try to do that.

What is your favorite thing about the food pantry?
The people. I love our guests. There are people who come in week after week, but I leave for a few months each winter. When I returned this year a guest said to me: “I miss you when you’re gone.” And then he told me all about his life and what he had been doing while I was gone; they are just such lovely people.

Do you have any memories that stick out from your time at Emmaus?
At the soup kitchen, when we served guests in the dining room, there was someone who came in each day, and he loved desserts! He would come up to me because he knew I was a soft touch; I gave in easily. He would say, “Deb. Deb. Can I have another dessert?” So I would always sneak him something because it gave him such pleasure to have an extra dessert.

What makes Emmaus special?
You can see the way the Sisters model for us how to be present to others. Watching Sisters Claire and Lucia all these years, as well as Sister Mary, they’re always so happy to be doing the work they do. They are very impressive. These three women are the kind of people that God gave us to give us all a boost. They teach us that life is about being in relationship with others.

Photo: (L-R) Debbie Robertson with members of her soup kitchen team, Barb Cullen and Patty Shea