WILKES-BARRE – Planning for the new, permanent home of Mother Teresa’s Haven, a shelter for homeless men operated by Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton, is now underway.

On Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023, agency leaders toured the space above Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen at 39 E. Jackson Street, which will soon be transformed into space that will be available for 20-24 men experiencing homelessness.

Harry Lyons, program director for Mother Teresa’s Haven shelter, center, leads a tour of the second floor of the Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen building in Wilkes-Barre. This space will soon be transformed into the new, permanent location for the emergency shelter serving men experiencing homelessness. (Photos/Eric Deabill)

“I couldn’t be more excited about being here, seeing the space and getting in,” Harry Lyons, program director for Mother Teresa’s Haven, said. “There is a lot of potential here.”

In late April, the Wilkes-Barre zoning hearing board unanimously approved an application for a special exception to establish the shelter above the Kitchen.

“We have a very supportive community,” Joe Mahoney, Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Social Services, explained. “We met with the mayor. We met with the neighbors and met with King’s College. We have got all of this support but we need to make sure we keep talking to them.”

The second floor space that will be converted into the shelter was most recently occupied by a health clinic. The space, which is currently divided into several exam rooms, will need to be reconfigured to accommodate the needs of the shelter.

“We’re excited about opening up the walls so we can get some line of sight. We’re excited about having adequate bathroom space with showers. We don’t currently have showers or laundry facilities but both are a basic need, a dignity issue,” Lyons said.

For the last several years, Mother Teresa’s Haven has been utilizing space in the basement of Saint Mary’s Church of the Immaculate Conception at 134 S. Washington Street. Prior to that, the shelter had rotated between several churches in Wilkes-Barre.

Catholic Social Services leaders say having a permanent home for the shelter located directly above Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen will also lead to better coordination of services for our brothers and sisters in need.

“We will be a one-stop shop, hopefully making our clients lives just a little bit easier,” Mahoney said. “Having a permanent home is going to be a big relief to our staff and the people we serve.”

“Mike Cianciotta, who runs Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen, has been providing meals for us for several years. I work closely with Mike. The Kitchen is an amazing operation and we want people to be able to say that about us. We want that same feeling about what they do at the Kitchen to apply to us,” Lyons added.

The timeline needed for renovations is still being determined so there is no expected completion date. While hoping to get the work done quickly, Lyons says it can’t be rushed.

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“This is something we’ve been waiting for a long, long time,” he said. “Ten years ago, on my very first day we started talking about it. This has been a goal forever.”

SCRANTON – When Bobby Wolliver returned to Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen on July 31, the first thing he noticed was how bright the inside of the facility looked.

“It is wonderful. It’s brighter,” he said. “I’m happy to be home and back here again.”

The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, leads a short prayer service prior to Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen reopening on Monday, July 31, 2023.

For ten weeks, the kitchen was closed for a “once-in-a-generation” renovation project. The nearly $2 million project involved replacing most kitchen equipment, expanding freezer space, creating handicap accessible bathrooms, creating a new front entrance along with painting and making the facility energy efficient.

“Every single ceiling has been replaced. Every light has been turned into an LED light, every wall has been painted,” Executive Director Rob Williams said. “It is exciting to look around the room and see our people where they are most comfortable.”

Albert Vosberg of West Scranton comes to Saint Francis Kitchen for a meal several times a week.

“I was blown away. It is amazing. It is like night and day. I just thank God that we have this place because without it a lot of people would go hungry,” he said. “It is not only the food, it is the comradery. Everybody that works here is like my family.”

Tania Durmiaki of Carbondale agreed.

“Some people live alone or they need to talk to people other than their family. It puts a smile on people’s faces,” she explained. “This is open to anyone.”

Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen serves 10 hot meals every week. They include a daily meal at 11 a.m. every day of the week (including weekends and holidays) and evening meals at 5 p.m. every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Head chef Selena Hitchens stands in the newly renovated kitchen area.

Each meal includes a garden salad, fruit salad, protein, starch, vegetables, dessert and beverages.

The kitchen also provides hundreds of weekly meals that are distributed at parishes in Carbondale, Olyphant and Roaring Brook Township.

“It is a wonderful mission we have here,” volunteer Jane Roberts said.

Roberts, who was born and raised in Scranton, waited until the official grand reopening to see the completed renovation work.

“It is magnificent. It was needed. It is beyond what I expected. I love it,” she said.

Head chef Selena Hitchens was excited to get back into the kitchen and prepare the first meal for the community.

“It’s like feeling like a kid in a candy store, you know when you walk in and you see everything and your eyes just light up, that’s how it felt walking in here and seeing everything,” she said.

Monsignor Constantine V. Siconolfi founded Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen in 1978. In those 45 years, officials believe there has only been four missed meals.

None of those missed meals occurred during this latest renovation project.

Lackawanna College allowed the kitchen to utilize its facility to prepare meals in its commercial kitchen. Meals on Wheels of Northeastern Pennsylvania let the kitchen serve its weekday meals out of its facility in the 500-block of Wyoming Avenue.

“They did a lot for us to have the meals at the other location,” Durmiaki noted. “It was smaller but they did a lot.”

The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, led a short prayer service before blessing the renovated facility ahead of its first meal.

“This is a great day for all of us. It is really beautiful and we’re very happy to be able to provide this to all of you,” Bishop Bambera said.

The bishop read a short Gospel passage and prayed for all those who helped make the renovations possible as well as all those who will benefit from the project.

“We ask you, Lord, to bless us and all who use this building. May all who come here know the presence of Christ, experience His compassion and grow in His love,” Bishop Bambera said.

Williams stressed that the mission of Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen continues to be providing a space for people to have a warm, nutritious meal, no matter their circumstances in life.

“By taking good care of them and loving them, we emphasize that our brothers and sisters in need have dignity and are deserving of a dignified meal,” Williams said.

With the renovation project now complete, Williams said Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen can now focus on possible future expansion.

“We have a really strong staff. We must discern God’s will for the future of this organization … I’m excited to see what God has in store for us,” he added.