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Sister Sam, founder of St. Vincent Meals on Wheels, dies at 82

In 1977, Sister Alice Marie Quinn started what became St. Vincent Meals on Wheels with a single pot of stew served to 83 seniors in a church basement near MacArthur Park.

On Friday — days after celebrating her 82nd birthday — Sister Sam, as she was known by friends, died of natural causes.

As executive director of St. Vincent Meals on Wheels, Sister Sam would rise every morning before dawn for an hour of prayer, then get to work overseeing the preparation and delivery of nearly 3,500 meals to the city’s homeless, homebound, disabled and terminally ill.

Her cause arose from observation. A registered dietitian, Sister Sam noticed that many low-income, elderly people living in apartments near St. Vincent Medical Center, where she had served as assistant dietary director, weren’t eating right.

“Over the years it became so much more than plates of food,” she once said. “It became friendship, family and nourishment for the soul.”

Now headquartered in an industrial-sized kitchen in the same neighborhood, the nonprofit has a staff of 78 and more than 300 volunteers who prepare, deliver and serve hot and frozen meals, as well as weekly breakfasts, to more than 1,800 Angelenos.

Chef Wolfgang Puck organized an extravagant 75th birthday party for Sister Sam. The two had been friends since the 1980s, when Puck asked her if St. Vincent could benefit from some of the proceeds from his annual American Wine and Food Festival. He has been a major fundraiser ever since.

At the time, Puck said no one deserved the honor more than Sister Sam.

“She's like a saint,” he told The Times in 2010. “If anybody should go to heaven, it should be her. She should sit in the first row up there. Or at the best table.”

Among the accolades she and St. Vincent garnered are the International Foodservice Manufacturers Assn. Silver Plate Award in 2006, for outstanding achievement in specialty food services, and she was named “Woman of the Year” in 1988 by the state of California. In 2013, the Los Angeles City Council declared the day before Thanksgiving as St. Vincent Meals on Wheels Day.

St. Vincent Meals on Wheels is a ministry of the Daughters of Charity, an order of nuns dedicated to the poor. Sister Patricia Miguel, a fellow Daughter of Charity who was close to Sister Sam, said she never wavered in her commitment to serve homebound seniors.

“Her life of service has inspired everyone who knew her,” Miguel said.

The Daughters of Charity has named the organization’s longtime director of development, Daryl Twerdahl, as the interim executive director.

“Sister Alice Marie mentored us, loved us, chided us, but above all else, she taught us to serve with compassion and respect,” Twerdahl said. “We will continue her legacy with every meal served.”

The viewing is at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and the rosary will be held at 7. A mass and burial will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Services will be at St. Vincent de Paul Church, 621 W Adams Blvd. Burial will be at Resurrection Cemetery, 966 Potrero Grande Drive in Rosemead.

andrea.castillo@latimes.com

@andreamcastillo

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