Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Passing the Christmas Spirit

“I got emotional. These kids were overwhelmed with joy.”

Volunteer John Knight was overjoyed himself. He got to dress up as Santa Claus, chat with over 30 children, and hand out gifts along with helper elf Lynda Schmelcher.

This is the second year John played Santa at Mother Marianne's West Side Kitchen.

“I love it. As you can see, it brightens up the kids’ day.”

The gifts they handed out – for children aged one to 12 -- were all donated.

Outreach Coordinator Nancy Robert pointed to the VFW in Remsen, which donated four bags of toys, as well as several anonymous donors.

“At one point,” John said, holding his thumb and finger an inch apart, “we were ‘this close’ to running out.”

And then a man appeared out of nowhere with three bags of toys.

Nancy said they wanted to do something special for the children – and, as it turns out, on a day when the soup kitchen was packed. “We served 186 meals,” Director Ed Morgan noted.

The effort, declared Santa John,  “was a huge success.”

Nancy noted that John bought his own Santa suit.

“Oh, it’s my pleasure,” John replied. “I just want to give back.”

“I love passing the Christmas spirit.”
Children sing Christmas carols with Santa, his elf and Cassandra Harris Lockwoo.
Led by Cassandra Harris Lockwood, Santa and children sing Christmas carols.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

A Special Place in Her Heart

Marianne Turczyn grew up in St. Joseph and St. Patrick parish, and because of that, she says, “Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen holds a special place in my heart.”

She also pointed to a connection with the soup kitchen’s namesake, who herself spent her childhood and young adult life in the parish before becoming a Franciscan sister and heading to Hawaii to care for lepers.

“Saint Marianne Cope grew up in West Utica very near my own childhood West Utica homestead. Unknowing at the time, I walked past her home as my siblings and I walked to St. Joseph's School -- now the site of the West Side Kitchen.”

Friday, December 6, 2019

A Christmas Wish List

With Christmas approaching, many of us have a wish list. Our children typically wish for the latest toys, gadgets and fashions. We adults are not above wishing for new gadgets ourselves. Or perhaps a better job. Or more meaning in our lives.

Nancy Robert has a Christmas Wish List aimed at putting a smile on the faces of people in need.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The People on the Front Lines

I was at the Seraphicum in Rome, Italy recently where I got to chat with a Franciscan missionary friar who has adopted the causes of caring for orphans and abandoned elderly on an island off the western coast of equatorial Africa.

The Seraphicum
The Seraphicum
I also got to chat with a Secular Franciscan from Venezuela whose Franciscan fraternity is feeding school children from destitute families and providing a free pharmacy for families hard-hit by their economy.

I got to share what we’re doing at Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen in a city where over 30 percent of its residents live in poverty.

The common thread is who is responding to people in need. They are people of faith. People with strong connections to churches. They are the ones on the front lines.


Thursday, October 24, 2019

Soup Kitchen Docs Hope to Thwart 'Silent Killers'

Dr. Mark Warfel and Nancy Robert
Dr. Mark Warfel (left) and Nancy Robert (right).
People who don’t access regular healthcare may suddenly find themselves the victims of silent killers like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

That’s why Dr. Mark Warfel was interested in reaching out to the underserved population through Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen (after outreach volunteer Nancy Robert approached him about doing health screenings at the soup kitchen).


Friday, October 11, 2019

A Big Heart and A Little Soul

Bernadette VanValkenburg
Many of our volunteers bring a big heart to Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen, caring for guests like they were family.

Some bring a bit of soul, breathing music into the air.

During the soup kitchen’s rededication day (Oct. 9), Bernadette VanValkenburg was playing the piano at one end of the dining hall, pouring out the joyful strains of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Destiny.”

 Bob SchmelcherShe simply notes: “When they have enough help in the kitchen, I play the piano.”

At the other end of the hall, Bob Schmelcher was playing “How Great Thou Art” on a curious instrument called an “echo harp.” It holds several harmonicas in a semi-circle cage, providing Bob quick access to a broader range of keys and notes.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Bike Racks for Guests, Volunteers

It rained a little that recent Tuesday morning, but then the sun peered from behind the clouds, bathing the entrance to Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen with bright, warm rays. Sunlight also glistened off four black bicycle racks.

Matt VanSlyke installs bike racks
Matt VanSlyke of Utica Bike Rescue squatted close to the sidewalk as he bolted a rack to the concrete.

The four new racks, capable of accommodating eight bikes, were being installed as a community service.

Now patrons and volunteers who ride bikes to the soup kitchen have a place “to secure them safely,” noted West Side Boutique Coordinator Nancy Robert. She brought up the idea of the racks, after a couple of bike thefts, when she went to Utica Bike Rescue to see about getting a couple of bicycles for children who come to the soup kitchen.

Matt, by the way, is executive director of Utica Bike Rescue and not unsurprisingly, an avid bicyclist. Their mission is to promote bicycling as a healthy lifestyle while refurbishing bikes, promoting bike safety and providing bikes to “children, students, refugees and lower-income households.”