Tuesday, April 15, 2008

We're Maxed Out

Wayne, our blind guest left homeless by a fatal fire two weeks ago, exhaled his exuberant laugh as he brought his tray of food to the table Tuesday.

“I finally have a place to live!” He settled in the chair and put his white cane down by his feet. “I move in on the first of the month.”

Wayne missed by a few minutes a special visitor, Jan Squadrito, senior program officer with the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties, Inc. Volunteer Coordinator Rose Marie Roberts had contacted Jan to inquire about a grant for an $8,000-plus walk-in freezer for Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen. Jan wanted to see the facility herself. Deacon Gil Nadeau gave her a quick tour, pointing out the food-line traffic flow, three overstuffed home-type freezers, and the busy kitchen with five volunteers heating up soup, setting up bins of sandwiches, putting out beverages, and prepping trays with celery sticks and cupcakes. He pointed out where the walk-in freezer would go, and answered her questions about how the space could accommodate a freezer unit’s electrical and structural needs.

Between the soup and sandwiches prepared in advance and donations of bread and other foods, “our freezer space is maxed out,” Deacon Gil said. A bakery “offered us a hundred loaves of bread, and we had to turn it away.”

Asked whether there was any proselytizing or whether soup kitchen guests were expected to attend church services, Deacon Gil said, “Absolutely not.” The operation is about feeding the hungry.

They moved into the dining room, and sat down. Rose Marie and our community ambassador, Bonnie Woods, joined them. Jan mentioned that Community Foundation staff prefer to meet with a group prior to starting the process. She offered guidelines and a checklist of what to do in submitting a grant application. The Community Foundation prefers not to fund organizations that duplicate a service already being provided, so it was good, she noted, that the soup kitchen was the first to step up to meet a need on the west side of Utica.

Jan left moments before the doors opened to our guests, but not before volunteer Jim Caldwell arrived. His hulking presence provides a sense of security in the dining room, but his calm demeanor and sense of humor allow for good-natured bantering.

Complaining that he watches too much TV, he suddenly asks our blind guest, “So, what do you do for entertainment, anyway?”

“I come here,” Wayne laughs.