Sunday, June 9, 2019

A Culture of Giving Back

When Maria Fessia decided to pursue a second career in barbering, she learned more than just cutting hair. The barber school she attended instilled “a culture of giving back,” she said, with students doing such charitable works as providing back-to-school haircuts for the underprivileged.

Maria Fessia
Maria Fessia
So it was only natural for her to stop in at the soup kitchen to offer her services – and she was surprised to learn about its boutique and salon that serves the financially strapped. She met boutique coordinator Nancy Robert and returned on the first Monday of the month to meet Debbie Moorhead and Linda Perrymen as they provided haircuts. With a number of clients queuing up, Maria pitched right in. Going forward, she plans to offer haircuts on an alternate Monday, thereby expanding the soup kitchen’s service.

Maria, who wants to have her own barber shop someday, is somewhat smitten with her alma mater -- the Paul Mitchell School in Schenectady, which, she said, “is famous for the phrase, ‘Success unshared is failure’.”

It’s a “mission to create a better world” and “instill positivity, gratitude and the philosophy of giving back.”

She added: “Students and staff actively participate in fundraising efforts and provide services to the community, and the work continues beyond graduation. I think it was rather auspicious that I happened to visit (West Side Kitchen) when I did and at a time when I was needed.”

Besides, “ I love to cut hair.”

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

These Volunteers Love Their Work

“Wow, Richard. You look great.”

Volunteer Nancy Robert was fussing over a guest at Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen. He was getting a free haircut in the soup kitchen’s boutique and salon.

It was the first Monday of the month when guests could reserve a spot in one of the barber’s chairs and get a haircut from Debbie Moorhead and Linda Perrymen, owners of Hair Solutions in Yorkville.

They manage to trim and style the hair of 15 to 16 guests in a one-hour period before going back to work at their own salon. Linda and Debbie started volunteering their skills four months ago after donor Mary Gearhart of Queen’s Closeet in Yorkville approached them about helping out.

“It’s very rewarding,” said Linda.

The guests “are getting to know us,” added Debbie. “They say ‘thank you’ and they come back.”

“We love it.”
Linda Perrymen
Linda Perrymen
Debbie Moorhead
Debbie Moorhead

Saturday, May 25, 2019

'I wanted to do something more'

Nancy Robert
Nancy Robert
Nancy Robert started volunteering at Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen last October. A month later she was spearheading an effort to provide warm clothing and toiletries to soup kitchen guests.

“I wanted to do something more,” she simply states.

That’s not an uncommon sentiment for someone volunteering at the soup kitchen.

As Nancy put it:

“There’s a lot of need in that area of West Utica…
“Homeless people. Hungry people.”

That “something more” quickly grew. In a couple of months, what started in a small spot in the basement overtook a large classroom on the second floor. It’s dubbed West Side Boutique for short, but like the soup kitchen, it is dedicated to St. Marianne Cope. Nancy’s dedicated crew include her sisters, Phyllis Bonanca and Pat McCraith, and a pair of soup kitchen volunteers who also wanted to do something more -- Julie Crandall and Bernadette VanValkenburg.

There are racks and tables of clothes, mostly new thanks to donors like Mary Gearhart of Queen’s Closet in Yorkville. In fact, Nancy recently outfitted two men and a young woman with a set of new clothes to wear to job interviews.

There are cabinets full of personal care items, thanks to places like Mohawk Valley Community College and Compassion Coalition’s Bargain Grovery. There are book cases sporting volumes of good reading for children and adults as well as games, stuffed animals and other toys.

There’s a gift table… for those with little means to be able to have a present to give on such occasions as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays.

That “something more” blossomed again in the form of free hair cuts on the first Monday of the month, thanks to Hair Solutions in Yorkville, and free health screenings on the second Tuesday of the month, thanks to doctors at the St. Elizabeth Family Medicine Residency Program in Utica.

We wonder what “something more” will produce next.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Who has the bigger heart?

Edward Morgan, director of Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen, wanted to show his gratitude, along with that of the Advisory Board and parish, to the volunteers that make the soup kitchen an impactful operation. So he organized a volunteer banquet at Club Monarch May 17, 2019.

Nearly 100 volunteers showed up. And they instead thanked Ed.

Terry Decker reads "proclamation."
Terry Decker reads "proclamation."
Terry Decker, who volunteers with her husband Bob on Wednesdays and Fridays, took to the podium and announced that the volunteers were presenting Ed with a proclamation, titled, “Ed Morgan, the Man with the Biggest Heart!”

Terry read the proclamation, which said, in part:

“Thank you for making such a wonderful difference in the lives of the people you meet and provide services to in our community.

“It is our honor to work alongside you as you work tirelessly to help the less fortunate, providing meals for them seven days a week.

“Even when you could relax with friends and family, you sacrifice your time and energy…

“What a tremendous asset you are to our community and to all of us who work with you!”

Later in the evening, when this “man with the biggest heart” shared that he would need to trim his hours for a while as he deals with a health issue, but that he would remain as director, the volunteers jumped to their feet and gave him a standing ovation.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Anniversary Is a Tribute to Poor, Hungry


That’s how Doris Goff described the sculpture dedicated to the people of Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen at St. Joseph and St Patrick Church in Utica.

It was unveiled at the soup kitchen’s 9th anniversary celebration March 12, perched atop an outdoor stone pedestal.

“I mean, it’s Jesus afterall,” Doris said, referring to the sculpture portraying Christ as a homeless beggar.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Dancing in My Seat

I was dancing in my seat. Swaying to a Latin rhythm. Swooning to a graceful waltz.

The experience had me wanting to jump onto the dance floor. We were watching, or rather, helplessly joining the flow and rhythm of “celebrity” dancers. It was the Good News Center’s 11th annual “Dance the Night Away,” held Feb. 11 at Hart’s Hill Inn in Whitesboro.

The event, which also celebrated the organization’s 25th anniversary, raised money for the non-profit’s ministries, which includes, among other things, healing fractured marriages, giving solace to the grieving divorced and widowed, and providing grants to organizations assisting those in need.

Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen is a recipient of one of those grants. After the celebrity dancers performed, and while the four judges were conferring, Good News Executive Director Mike Buckley presented a $1,000 check to the soup kitchen, noting its “good work” in feeding the unemployed, struggling families, and the homeless. As West Side Kitchen’s advisory board chair, I accepted the check on behalf of our volunteers and guests.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Perfect Gift

Robin Komorek with daughter and husband
Robin Komorek, daughter & husband.
Robin Komorek of Waterville got her Christmas wish – to volunteer at Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen.

“She asked if I would give this to her for Christmas,” husband Chris said.

Daughter Toni Amodio came along, too, bringing a bowl of candy for every table and a huge tray of homemade cookies from her business, “Sweet Creations by Toni.”

Bob Schmelcher
Bob Schmelcher on echo harmonica.
Coordinator Ed Morgan with sister-in-law Rosalie Siuta.
Coordinator Ed Morgan with sister-in-law.
Volunteers welcomed guests, including children, to the soup kitchen, saying “Merry Christmas” and directing them to decorated tables while other volunteers in the kitchen dished out food and assembled trays that were quickly brought out by volunteer waiters and waitresses. Still other volunteers followed up with drinks and trays of pies and whipped cream. And in the background, Bob Schmelcher played Christmas carols on his echo harmonica – from Jingle Bells to Silent Night.

“This is a great bunch of volunteers,” noted Christmas Day Coordinator Ed Morgan, who is vice chairman of the soup kitchen advisory board. “They’re upbeat, friendly. Half of them I don’t even know. They’re very cool.”

“We ended up serving 189 meals, including 20 take-outs,” he added.

His sister-in-law, Rosalie Siuta, likes helping out on all the holidays. “It’s probably the best feeling in the world to be able to give back, and to help” people in need.

Elvira Turpin
Elf Elvira Turpin
Regular volunteer Elvira Turnpin dressed up as Santa’s elf. “I figured this would be nice for the kids.”

 Elvira recalled the time she was in a New York City shelter with her two infant daughters. That’s why she helps at West Side Kitchen four days a week and spends a fifth day at the Utica Salvation Army. “So I give back -- It’s from the heart.”

Daquan Forehand
Boy Scout Daquan Forehand
Utica Troop 101 Boy Scout Daquan Forehand, a student at MVCC who wants to be an EMT, volunteers on Wednesdays but decided to help at Christmas, too. “Christmas to me is basically about just giving back.”

Lorraine Haley and Dan Hoffman, who were friends in school, decided to come to the soup kitchen after reading about it in the newspaper. “I thought, it’s time to give back,” Lorraine said. “So we decided to come down and help out as much as we can.”

Cheryl Wakeel’s first exposure to the soup kitchen was on Christmas five years ago. It was such a moving experience that not only does she return every Christmas, but also helps out during the week, serving as crew chief on Wednesdays, and beginning in January, she’ll be there on Mondays, too.

cheryl Wakeel
Cheryl Wakeel
“I love it; it feels good to help out,” noted Vikki Commisso, who joined Cheryl and her son, Gregory Wakeel, prepping and dishing out food in the kitchen, along with Shirley Schmelcher and Kathleen Carter. “It makes me feel good, plus I meet wonderful people.”

Rick Caruso, who was helping Shirley Schmelcher put slices of pie on plates, said simply: “it’s Christmas. It’s good to share.”

Added Shirley, who was there with daughter Lynda and husband Bob: “It’s our way of giving back to the community.”

Michell Thurston, center, with daughters.
After hearing there was a need for volunteers, Michelle Thurston, a nurse tech in surgery at St. Elizabeth Medical Center, came with her daughters, Jordan Tartaglia, a student teacher, and Sara Tartaglia, an MVCC student who wants to be a social worker.

“We wanted to help out,” said Sara.

Perhaps Toni Amodio summed it up best for the volunteers:

“The best gift you could ever give someone is your time.”

photo album of Christmas volunteers