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.

What motivates our volunteers at West Side Kitchen? For many, they see a touch of the divine in people they serve. Patrons are not just anybody. They are Somebody.

Pancake breakfast
Pancakes for guests
It’s a similar attitude with occasional volunteers who want to do something special as a community service. Like Liz Kearns and her Confirmation Class at Our Lady of the Rosary Church. Instead of serving bagged lunches on Sunday, Oct. 27, Liz and her students prepared and served 164 pancake breakfasts.

It wasn’t the first time Liz brought her confirmation classes to the soup kitchen.

After cleaning up that Sunday, Liz capped the day with a special gesture. She surprised Director Ed Morgan with a $500 donation.

It wasn’t the first time she did that either.

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.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Honored for What He Loves to Do

It’s “humbling,” Ed Morgan told the crowd, “to be recognized for just doing something that I love to do.”

Those were Ed’s simple, yet telling words as he received the Saint Mother Marianne Cope Award on Aug. 18 during the 160th Anniversary Celebration of the Secular Franciscan Order’s St. Joseph Fraternity.

I had the privilege of making the presentation before 100 people during a luncheon banquet at the newly opened Irish Cultural Center.

The plaque read: “In recognition of coordinating the soup kitchen operation and leading/inspiring the volunteer force, resulting in serving nutritious lunchtime meals to the … working poor, jobless and homeless; treating hungry children and adults as blessings; serving over 53,000 meals a year.”

Friday, August 23, 2019

Zoo Comes to the Children

Checking out the hognose snake
Checking out the hognose snake
There were giggles, murmurs of awe, even strange quacking on the lawn outside Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen.

The occasion was an appearance by the Utica Zoomobile on a sunny Friday in August.
West Side Boutique’s Nancy Robert coordinated the visit for neighborhood children, many of whom have been eating at the soup kitchen during summer vacation.


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.


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.


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.”


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.