From a speech by Mary Stronach, OFS, during the church’s 175th Anniversary celebration in 2016.

His homily hit home

I remember it vividly. It was February 17, 2008. Bob and I were at 4:30 Mass Saturday evening. Deacon Gil Nadeau had just read the Gospel on the Transfiguration. His sermon began and we settled in our seats – to listen to the message. But, then those words struck us. Peter, James and John went down from the mountain. And we, as a parish must also come down from the mountain – for people in need. He got our attention. He explained that he and Father Dellos had been talking about offering a hospitality center for two years. They knew there was a need. Almost daily someone would come to the rectory asking for food or assistance. “It was time!” he said. St. Joseph/St. Patrick Church would open a Soup Kitchen! He invited the parishioners to come to a volunteer coordinating committee meeting the following Thursday. Bob and I left church both inspired by his words, as were several other members of the Secular Franciscan Order who were at mass that weekend.

Our coordinating committee consisted of:

  • Deacon Gil as chairperson and facilities and supply coordinator
  • Fr. Richard Dellos
  • Bob and Donna Oderkirk, food production
  • Rick and Rose Marie Roberts, volunteer coordinators
  • Katie Koscinski, training and Franciscan service coordinator
  • Joanne Lockwood, quality control
  • Bonnie Woods, community ambassador
  • Bob and Mary Stronach, hospitality and publicity
  • Fred Rode, security
  • Donna Nelson, Carmelite liaison

Mission and vision became clear

At that first meeting, the mission and the vision were clear: to serve the poor and marginalized of the area. This would be a soup kitchen – the best soup in town, a variety of sandwiches, cookie or other sweet treat, punch. Everyone who served should share the joy of the Lord. Our volunteers would welcome the guests joyfully with a Smile, and say God bless you, enjoy your meal.

Immediately, the team went into action.

Deacon Gil with his experience in Food Service delivery had already done some homework. He knew what needed to be done to prepare the kitchen. The kitchen would have to be brought up to code – cleaning, painting, installing sinks and three extra freezers. And then it would have to be inspected.

This would cost money. Fortunately, the parish’s special bank account to help the needy, called St. Stephen’s Basket, had some starter funds.

But, we would still need to get food donations and other monetary contributions. The parishioners and community were there 100% — food was left at the door, businesses supplied other products, donations were already coming in.

Bob and Donna Oderkirk would have a team to prepare the soup and sandwiches in the evening.

Volunteers were scheduled. Hours would have to be set. It would run six days a week. On Sundays the church already had a Sunday brunch for the parishioners and guests.

Soup kitchen gets a name

The Soup Kitchen immediately was baptized as Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen in honor of our beloved saint – though she was not canonized a saint yet.

Signs were ordered. A website and blog were established. Articles were sent to the media.

Grants to fund the kitchen had to be written – among the first grants was one from the Community Foundation of Oneida and Herkimer Counties.

It was a gigantic task. Surely, even with this initial burst of energy and enthusiasm, this would take months to implement. The Holy Spirit had other plans and so did the committee – 18 days later, Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen opened its doors (March 10, 2008). (A formal ribbon-cutting grand opening took place with local dignitaries a week later on March 17.) Our guests themselves said they were enjoying the best soup and sandwiches in town.

7 days a week

Today, the soup kitchen operates seven days a week, serving hot meals during the week and bag lunches on weekends, and volunteers continue to join the team. They come from as far away as Watertown to as close as the District Attorney’s office locally. One Secular Franciscan teacher from Watertown brought his two daughters to volunteer so that they could experience the gift of giving. An assistant district attorney, Tim Fitzgerald, joined the volunteers soon after he retired. The Lord took him just a few months later, but I’m sure he had already met many at the soup kitchen and he told the Lord about their needs and joys.

Most of our guests come from the area. They are mothers with small children, the homeless, the marginalized, those recently unemployed, seniors who are home alone and come to the soup kitchen for companionship and a warm meal. During school breaks and summer vacations, the numbers increase because there are children home from school.

It is, indeed, a joyful place – a place of comfort. Volunteers often talk with the guests who share their stories, their needs, their frustrations. Sometimes they are referred to other agencies for assistance. Sometimes they pray together.

Mother Marianne’s Westside Kitchen has given our community a legacy of caring, a legacy of hope, a legacy full of the love of Christ.