SCRANTON – With the cost of groceries, fuel and other household expenses continuing to rise, Christine Ward has often found herself in need of a helping hand.

She is very thankful for the dedicated volunteers of Saint Paul Parish in Scranton’s Green Ridge section, who operate a parish food pantry every Friday from the basement of Saint Clare Church.

“It is very important. We come twice a month and there is a lot of stuff that you can choose. They have a lot of choices,” Ward said.

Christine Ward of Scranton expresses her gratitude to the volunteers who operate the Saint Paul Parish food pantry on a weekly basis. The parish received a $5,000 Social Justice Grant this year from the Diocesan Annual Appeal to serve its community. (Photo/Dan Gallagher)

The pantry has seen its numbers skyrocket in recent years.

“People fall through the cracks every day that never thought they would fall between the cracks and sometimes we don’t recognize, just in the general public around us, who those people are,” food pantry volunteer Noreen Rowland said.

Ward says the volunteers are courteous and respectful and really want to help their community.

“It’s actually good to come here because you get there and they ask you what you want. You can choose what you want – like Corn Flakes or any kind of cereal – and then you can choose your coffee, hot chocolate, tea, fruits and all different things,” Ward added.

In just the last year, Saint Paul Parish food pantry volunteers distributed more than 22,500 pounds of food.

Barbara Burkhouse, who has helped coordinate distribution efforts for the last 16 years, says the food pantry might have helped only five families a week in the past.

Now, the number of families helped each week is usually upwards of 25 families.

“They have increased significantly this year. We could see that as some of the benefits that were being given to people were cut back,” Burkhouse explained.

While supported by parishioner donations and area businesses, gifts to the Diocesan Annual Appeal also play a critical role in helping the Saint Paul Parish food pantry fulfill its mission.

The parish is one of 24 parishes that has received a Social Justice Grant from the Diocesan Annual Appeal this year. The parish also received a grant for its food pantry in 2022.

The $5,000 grant that the parish requested directly helps people in their local community.

“It is amazing. We use every penny we get our hands on. With the grant, we do a lot of meat and seafood coupons. We actually give people a $20 meat/seafood coupon once a month so they can go to Gerrity’s and pick out their own choice. That is really appreciated,” Jody Maloney, co-coordinator of the Saint Paul Parish food pantry, said.

“The Diocesan grant, the $5,000, is extremely important to us and we’re delighted to receive it,” Burkhouse added.

As you consider how you are called to serve others, think about your brothers and sisters who receive a helping hand from the dedicated volunteers at the Saint Paul Parish food pantry.

“There are many clients that really rely on this and we see so many people that are raising grandchildren,” food pantry volunteer Kathleen Manley said. “Some of them are very outspoken as to just how grateful they are!”

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.