Sister Jean Embodied Year-Round Spirit of Giving
The holidays are when most people give of themselves to others, but it was that way year-round with Sister Jean Webster, and it recurred unabated and without much fanfare for a quarter century. (Click for photo gallery)
What began with the kindly gesture of serving a homeless man a hot meal in 1986 evolved into a year-round crusade, catching the attention and support of several civic groups that helped Sister Jean feed and clothe thousands of the less fortunate for years. It started in her Atlantic City home, took up residence at A.C.’s Community Presbyterian Church as “Sister Jean’s Kitchen,” and grew to meet the needs of more than 400 people per day.
Her reluctance for personal publicity likely masked the fact that for years Sister Jean dealt with cardiac problems, and on Monday afternoon, Jan. 10, her compassionate heart gave out at the age of 76. Her death was confirmed in an Associated Press report by the Rev. John Scotland, pastor of the Brigantine Community Presbyterian Church (BCPC) and longtime president of the Friends of Jean Webster. The BCPC oversees two Sister Jean benefactors — the True Spirit Coalition and the Crossroads Youth Group.
“My daughter [Ani] and other kids from Crossroads did volunteer work at Sister Jean’s,” says Brigantine resident Kim Hayes, “and she said it made her realize how we often take for granted things like a hot meal, and how many people there are out there who need the help of others.”
David Spatz, an Atlantic City Weekly columnist and Emmy Award-winning TV host, taped an episode of Curtain Call at Sister Jean’s Kitchen when singer Tony Orlando was in town. “On our list of memorable shows, a holiday special [producer] Jake [Glassey Jr.] and I produced on the fly when Tony Orlando visited Sister Jean’s Kitchen is near the top of the list,” says Spatz through Facebook. “Jean was tough, she was a character and — aging and in poor health for years — she stood up to drunks and drug addicts who towered over her. But when Tony broke into an impromptu medley of Christmas songs, Jean was right there singing along with him.”