Judy Quest is not clowning around when she says feeding Omaha’s poor was at the top of her retirement plan.
After retiring in 2014 from a 23-year counseling career at Duchesne Academy, Quest wasted no time pursuing her passion. She drove downtown to volunteer at the Holy Family Parish lunch program.
Every Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Omaha’s poor line up at the basement entrance of the church to receive a plastic lunch bag that contains a cold-cut sandwich, crackers, and cookie. The hungry also have their choice of an energy drink, bottled water or soda.
“I can’t figure out why anyone in the United States can be hungry,” Quest said.
Wednesday morning is Quest’s time to hang out in the basement’s cramped entryway. She and another volunteer distribute lunch bags to about 75-100 poor men and women.
Summers in the concrete entryway can be hot. Winters can be frigid. This allows Quest to experience solidarity with the poor.
“Sure, there are times I feel sad when I am around the poor,” she said. “But I don’t think they want me to feel sad.”
Quest, 67, can relate. She and her husband Tom have been married 40 years. One of their three children was born with cerebral palsy. Quest said she does not want people to feel sad for her because she has a handicapped child.
“I’m lucky to have what I have,” said Quest, a cancer survivor. “God has blessed me with good fortune.”
Quest’s partner on most Wednesday mornings is Arnie Jacobson, a recent retiree and a member of Mt. Olive Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in north Omaha.
Jacobson, 72, who said he is “Catholic on Fridays during lent,” worked 47 years at Mutual of Omaha. Quest recruited him to volunteer at Holy Family.
“All Christians are called to help the poor,” Jacobson said. “We serve God by serving others.”
Quest and Jacobson said they look forward to their Wednesday morning shift at Holy Family. They call the other lunch program volunteers “walking saints.”
“I have never heard another volunteer judge the poor,” Quest said.
“And the poor never judge us,” Jacobson added.
Feeding the poor during her retirement years is not the first time Quest has made an out-of-the-ordinary decision. Years ago when she was pregnant, she took a hiatus from her job. To help make up for the reduced household income, she pursued another not-so-typical passion. Quest enrolled in clown school at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs.
Quest has been clowning for 34 years. She is part of a clown alley or group called Omaha’s Wild Clown-dum. She accepts 50 to 60 clown jobs a year. Her clown friends have volunteered with her at Holy Family. She said the poor enjoy seeing them in their clown costumes.
“Distributing food to the poor is not my main responsibility at Holy Family,” Quest said. “My main task is to smile and let the poor know they are loved.” That comes easy for Quest, whose clown name is Dear Heart.