Cindy Opalka, left, and Jim Roberts, right, help to prepare meals for distribution at Saint Rose of Lima Parish in Carbondale on Dec. 3, 2020. (Photo/Eric Deabill)

CARBONDALE – The smell of meatloaf filled the basement hall at Saint Rose of Lima Church on Thursday, Dec. 3, and it provided a taste of normalcy for approximately a dozen parish volunteers.

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, the parish hosted its weekly Mid Valley Outreach meal to anyone in need in the community. With the assistance of Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen in Scranton, the parish will once again provide a warm, nutritious meal to people in the Carbondale community once a week.

“We’re very happy and excited to be able to provide for the people of the Carbondale area once again,” Rob Williams, Executive Director of Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen and Food and Clothing Pantry, said.

Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen provides the food, chef and everything it takes to deliver the meal, but parish volunteers help to serve it. Due to the ongoing health crisis, the meals are being served in to-go containers at the door.

“One of the greatest things for me, with regards to the Mid Valley Outreach, is that it’s local people serving local people,” Williams added.

The outreach meal started in Carbondale five years ago and quickly became popular. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers would typically serve between 80-110 sit-down meals each Thursday.

Jim Roberts serves as coordinator for the community meal.

“Jesus told us to feed the hungry and minister to them in any way you can,” he said.

Recognizing that the need for a warm meal never disappeared during the pandemic, Roberts said his volunteers were excited to get back to work.

“They are more than eager. They wanted to come back. They want to do this. They knew we would have to take precautions, wear masks and gloves and social distance but they wanted to come back. It is their way of serving,” he explained.

Volunteer Cindy Opalka says the team of volunteers have formed a tight-knit family. Over the course of the last few months, she would often hear from people in the community how much the weekly meal was missed.

“I could not wait,” she explained, describing excitement to get back to serving.

Central to the work of Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen is volunteerism. That is why the partnership between the kitchen and Saint Rose of Lima Parish is so critical.

In addition to Carbondale, Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen has also provided meals to churches in Olyphant and Archbald on a weekly basis as part of the Mid Valley Outreach Program.

While those meals have not yet resumed, Williams is hopeful they will resume early in 2021.

“We’ve been in conversations with those parishes and pastors and I’m hoping that in the new year, at some point in the new year, we’ll be in the position to continue our service to those communities as well,” Williams explained.