It is 6:30 p.m. and, like every Monday, Cynthia Juarez opens the central gate of the Saint-André church, in the Guillotière district, in Lyon (Rhône), a stone’s throw from the university. Jean Moulin. The students, carrying a large shopping bag, will soon enter.
On a large open space in the nave, Cynthia and six other volunteers from Epifree Saint-André, the solidarity grocery store, offer them syrups and cakes before checking if they are on the list and, sometimes, asking them for their student card. “The church was closed for years,” says Father Armel Bouchacourt, current parish priest. When it reopened in 2018, we had to throw out the bug-infested chairs. We then reduced the number of seats and created this reception area towards the portal. We organize aperitifs there at the end of masses, and sometimes concerts. »
Students and young professionals then set up this solidarity grocery store for students. These volunteers belong to the “Pier-Giorgio-Frassati Conference”, one of the sixteen Lyon groups of the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Society. “We receive donations and helping hands from parishioners,” explains Cynthia, who has been coming for three years and took over responsibility for the group last October with Claire Amplino. The latter smiles: “I joined the group last year thanks to my son Charles, who insisted on participating. » This one, 11 and a half years old, stands at the door to encourage the most timid to enter. “Often, I serve them a drink,” he explains with the seriousness of his youth. “He helps us a lot to build relationships with young people,” his mother proudly comments.
The solidarity grocery store welcomes young people on Mondays
Every Monday, between 60 and 80 students come to fill their fridge, notified by an electronic message received the previous Friday. As the distribution of food takes place in the basement, they are called in turns. “During this wait, they confided in us their anxieties related to exams or their budget,” says Claire.
She remembers finding a young girl crying in front of the altar: “She had no news from her sister who was in Israel during the Hamas attack. So we talked and prayed together. »
The solidarity grocery store, a use compatible with worship
This was indeed the intention in opening Saint-André to this use compatible with worship: “Located in a district where many cultures intersect, with a tram stop right on our square, this place must allow the street to enter the church, that we can welcome in the name of Christ,” continues Father Armel. The parish also offers day care for women and children living in shelters. The volunteers from Epifree Saint-André have also installed, right next door, their crates brought the same morning by other volunteers from the Food Bank. “Bananas? Tomatoes? Help yourself,” suggests Mireille. Young people consult the list written on a board to find out what they are entitled to.
Isil, 24, a computer science student, politely refuses the endives, which she does not like. She has been coming for over a year: “I learned about Epifree from a friend and it helps me financially. Although Turkish and atheist, I find this generosity in a place of worship great. » Anthelme, 20 years old, on a work-study program in events, fills a crate, exclaiming: “I discovered, because until this evening I was never able to register. Places are going quickly on the app. There, I replace my roommate. In addition to saving money, these foods encourage us to cook and diversify our meals. » Mireille takes him at his word by explaining to him how to peel prickly pears.
Meanwhile, two young people, attracted by the open gate, have the process explained to them. “Would you like some vegetables?” Cynthia suggests to them before putting away the surplus which will be given the next day to the day care families. They refuse: “Save them for those who need them! But your initiative will interest friends.” While they are talking, a young couple goes to meditate at the back of the church. Following in their footsteps, two young people come to ask for the opening hours of the church during the day: “We would like to be able to admire the stained glass windows”… Beyond its humanitarian mission, Epifree contributes to the vitality of Saint-André.