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

 As coordinator of the boutique at Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen, she is already providing clothing and hygiene products to some 112 people a month, including children and some homeless individuals. Nancy and her volunteers operate a clothing boutique and hairstyling salon in a former classroom, and have now taken over half of a second classroom dedicated to the needs of children and infants.

The number one item on her wish list? People like you and me.

“We’re looking to increase volunteer support as services increase.” The boutique is open Mondays and Wednesdays. She would like to open a third day each week, preferably Friday. (Click here to volunteer.)

Here’s the rest of her Christmas Wish List:
  • Bedding including warm blankets, sheets, comforters, pillows and pillow cases.
  • Towels and washcloths.
  • Toiletries, primarily shampoo, toothpaste, tooth brushes, soap, deodorant, toilet paper, lotion/moisturizer for dry skin, Tylenol.
  • Warm coats - men, women, children.
  • Winter boots - men, women, children.
  • Warm socks - men, women, children.
  • Hats, gloves - men, women, children. 
  • Underwear - men, women, children.
  • Bras - all sizes (new only).
  • Preschool toys, educational toys, puzzles for all ages. 
  • Flashlights with batteries.

“I know this list is large,” Nancy says. “Whatever we receive, we so appreciate and so do the patrons.”

There is one more thing on her list: Chocolate candy.

Simply put: “Everyone loves chocolate. It really warms the heart and puts a smile on faces.”

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.”

Thursday, September 26, 2019

‘A Gem in the Heart of Utica’

We work to feed the hungry in our community without regard to getting recognition. Our volunteers are motivated by something else. Some may refer to the golden rule of treating others as they would like to be treated. Others may quote the New Testament passage, Matthew 25:35, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome.”

So, it does come as a bit of a surprise when donors track us down and even ask God to bless us. Soup kitchen director Ed Morgan says he is continually amazed.

Shannon Crocker
Shannon Crocker
assistant professor / MVCC
One such donor Ed got to meet at Mohawk Valley Community College. Her students volunteered in the food recovery program, which resulted in tons of food that would otherwise have been discarded being donated to soup kitchens run by organizations like the Salvation Army and West Side Kitchen. Ed got to interact with them on a number of occasions.

This year their professor, Shannon Crocker, won the Aeries Award from MVCC Auxiliary Services for her volunteer and humanitarian efforts. The award came with the opportunity to donate $1,000 to the charity of her choice. She chose Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen.

We asked her why.

“I selected Mother Marianne's West Side Kitchen because it is a gem in the heart of Utica. Every semester when Ed comes to talk with my students, I am blown away by his compassion, caring, and respect for Mother Marianne's patrons. Every semester my students tell me how going to Mother Marianne's is like going to their grandmother's kitchen. It set a wonderful example of community for my students and I am very thankful our city has such an amazing place.”

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Volunteering Part of Homeschooling

Six-year-old Dash Wilson was cleaning the table with determination. His 8-year-old brother, Syke, was wielding a broom, with dad Eleyah offering a tip on how to sweep more efficiently. Meanwhile, 19-month-old Kaleah was shadowing her brothers, offering advice in screams and shouts.

It was just another day of community service for the homeschooled Wilson family — except that the location was Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen.