In tough economic times as well as good, St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen, off East Jackson Street in Wilkes-Barre, has opened its doors to offer home cooked meals, clothing, a food pantry, and health clinic to those in need since 1983.
As part of the Catholic Social Services of the Wyoming Valley, St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen and Project Director Ann Marie McCawley organize volunteers and offer daily necessities to area residents. For 24 years, McCawley has seen many people come and go. The kitchen has become a viable part of many families’ budgets, she noted.
The kitchen serves up to 350 hot meals seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., and offers dinner on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 5 to 6 p.m.
“It is the only mass food service in Luzerne County,” McCawley said.
In addition to home cooked meals, donations from area individuals, supermarkets, organizations, and corporations, other services are offered, including a food pantry, clothing closet, and medical clinic.
Sponsored by the Department of Agriculture, the food pantry is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 9 to 11 a.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. The clothing closet, offering a selection of gently worn garments, is open on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, from 9 to 11 a.m. and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 1 to 3 p.m. A medical clinic, run by the Rural Health Corporation, is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to noon and on Tuesdays, from 1 to 4 p.m. The clinic is funded through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant. It is the only clinic in the county providing medical care to the homeless, including flu shots, McCawley explained.
In her eyes, the long-standing motto of the Wyoming Valley as “the Valley with a Heart” still rings true today. The array of services offered would not be available without help from donations and volunteers.
“We have 60 core volunteers who are here one or two days a week,” McCawley said. “We also have corporations who volunteer for a week, especially around Thanksgiving.”
This past fall, a very successful Back to School drive was held- approximately 1,200 children received backpacks, pencils, and notebooks.
“When you think of parents struggling to make ends meet, then faced with back-to-school expenses, this drive was very successful,” she said.
A hot, nutritious meal on a frosty night and the availability of warm clothing and blankets help many hold onto hope while attempting to find employment or just get through a tough time.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in July 2010, Luzerne County’s unemployment rate reached a high of 10.2 percent. Companies, large and small, have cut staffing. The end result is a job market saturated with hunters, leaving many families and individuals trying to stretch their slim budgets further and further.
According to McCawley, many of the kitchen’s guests prefer not to reveal their identities or share their intimate stories. However, she shared a brief overview, while honoring the confidentiality of families.
She told of a family who relocated to the Wyoming Valley from New Jersey after the ather lost his job. He moved his wife and three children to Northeastern Pennsylvania for better opportunities, but met with a rocky start. The family relied on the kitchen for meals, but hey looked uncomfortable when they came to the kitchen.
“You could tell the children wereuncomfortable about coming here,” McCawley said. “They did not want to take the food.”
She recalled hearing the father say, “Take the food,” to his children. The father has since found a job and the family has become more financially secure.
Stories similar to this are far too familiar to McCawley. Families and individuals who have leaned on the kitchen do tend to keep in touch. She recalled a woman who once was a kitchen guest, who now has procured a full-time job and tries to volunteer sporadically.
“Many will return to let me know that they found work,” she said. “They often try to return the favor and help out when they can.”
McCawley said the kitchen sees people of all ages and backgrounds. It particularly tugs on her heart when she sees senior citizens coming in–– those who have worked their whole lives but now rely on the kitchen.
St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen is always looking for donations and/or volunteers. If you are interested, call (570) 829-7796.