Meatballs with mashed potatoes and gravy. Roast, ham and turkey in the oven. Stocked shelves, a lifeline for the hungry poor.
When you were in Pat Brengman's presence, whether you had an appetite was beside the point. Sooner or later, you ate.
"It didn't matter who you were, it was all the same," said Larry Brengman, the seventh of her 12 children. "You came, you ate and you took food with you."
Food, her love for it, and especially for feeding others, is how Brengman will be long remembered. She died Oct. 7 in St. Paul after a long battle with lupus and pulmonary disease. She was 78.
Brengman, along with her husband, Rick, founded St. Paul's Trinity Mission Food Shelf, which since 1982 has served thousands of the hungry poor across the Twin Cities and into Wisconsin. Even after Brengman's death, the food shelf will continue feeding families into its 30th year, largely with her 12 children and a handful of volunteers at the helm.
Trinity Mission Food Shelf was the result of Brengman's greatest loves: people and food. The Brengmans ran Shirley's Diner in south Minneapolis, where she began feeding the hungry and homeless nearby. After the diner closed, Rick Brengman went to work for Honeywell.
With his income, they began grocery shopping and putting together meals to bring to the homeless near the Uptown railroad tracks, Larry Brengman said. Eventually things grew and they opened the food shelf in St. Paul. From there, he said, things "just kind of exploded."
"Mom's favorite saying was 'You never know if Jesus shows up at your door,'" he said. "So she'd help everybody. If you needed help, she'd help you."
As it still does today, Trinity didn't have boundaries on who it served. And churches from all over the Twin Cities make donations to the food shelf, said Mary Jo Rusinak, a Trinity volunteer and board member.
She recalled her friend as saintly and passionate about food, whether feeding strangers or her family and friends. It was never anything fancy, Rusinak said, just "good, hearty comfort-type food. Minnesotan food."
"If she loved you, she fed you." And she loved everyone, Rusinak said.
Larry Brengman said it was normal to take a seat next to a hungry stranger at their dinner table, especially during the holidays. He and each of his 11 siblings at one time or another had to give their shoes or jackets to people who showed up without any. He laughed when he recalled how, at 14, he had to give up a prized jacket.
"I was stubborn and said, 'But Mom, it's a leather jacket!'" he recalled saying. " 'Just give it to them,'" she responded.
Although Pat Brengman was bedridden for the past five years, she never quit running the food shelf, particularly during the recent recession when the number of clients jumped from about 1,600 to 2,200. Some of them, Larry Brengman said, were former donors.
"It's funny because she never really did retire," he said. "She would run the place from her bed. People would sit at her bedside and she'd tell them what to do."
Pat Brengman is survived by her husband, John F. "Rick" Brengman Jr.; their children John, Mark, Paul, Bryan, Gerald, Patricia, Lawrence, Robert, James, Lawrence, Paul and Michael; a sister, Norma Schleppegrell; 23 grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921