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Vincent Mecca

Volunteers make kitchen thrive

By Vincent Mecca, senior communication arts major

Volunteer for 14 years, Vera Hughes (front), folds napkins and prepares the bread for the incoming clients at the St. Francis of Assisi Soup Kitchen. Photo Credit: Elysabethe Brown

Most people look forward to retirement.  Many anticipate retirement as a time to relax, knowing they’ve put in their time, paid their dues, and hopefully, created a foundation of wealth to support themselves.

But for Vera Hughes, retirement wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.  “What prompted me to volunteering was the fact that I retired and I wanted something to do because I wasn’t just satisfied sitting home and doing nothing.”

Hughes  has been volunteering at St. Francis for the past 14 years.

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, 26.8 percent of the American population volunteered last year, with 22.5 percent of the total volunteers being those out of the work force.

According to Msgr. Joseph P. Kelly, president of the advisory board at St. Francis of Assisi Soup Kitchen in Scranton, the facility is home to more than 300 regular volunteers like Hughes who come through the door each year.

“Volunteerism is an extremely important part of what we do here,” he said.

Although he said some volunteers are serving mandatory community service, often times from underage drinking offenses in the area, that isn’t true for many of the volunteers who dedicate their time to serving the community.

Hughes’ positive attitude was evident when she greeted the people who came through the line on Friday, March 30, with a smile and offered them a dessert from her section of the line.  She told one of the people going through the soup kitchen line that the food looked good as she handed a piece of cheesecake to the clients, as if she were completely familiar with each of them.

Hughes said that while many people think that only homeless and those who do not have jobs come to the soup kitchen, that is incorrect.

“I call, and most of the people who work here call, [those] who come here clients,” she explained.  “We have them from all walks of life. There’s young and old.  Some are veterans; some are homeless with no place to go.”

Another volunteer, Mindy Westover, has been volunteering for the past few weeks and in that short time, has gotten to know Hughes.

“Vera is a great person and a great worker.” said Mindy, excited to answer about Hughes.

Westover herself is familiar with St. Francis and its clients, as she visited the kitchen with her family as a child.

“When I was little, my dad used to take me [to St. Francis] because we were financially poor and now I want to give back to the community,” she said.

According to Westover, not everyone seems to realize who St. Francis really serves. She said she believes that sometimes there are negative stereotypes for those who need food assistance.

“I was talking to someone the other day and he said he didn’t think we should be feeding people at the soup kitchen because they were bums.  But they are just people like you and me,” Westover said.

According to Seth Einterz, volunteer coordinator, Hughes volunteers on Mondays and Fridays and is referred to as a “regular” at St. Francis.

“She enjoys working here and provides a fabulous service to the kitchen and to the community.” said Einterz.

Hughes went on to clarify that the soup kitchen does not turn away anyone, regardless of why they may need assistance.

“Some are down on their luck, and sometimes just poor.  And it’s a mix of anybody and everybody whom St. Francis accepts, no questions asked,” said Hughes.

But no matter who walks through the door at St. Francis, Hughes is always glad to welcome and serve them, and she does so with a smile.

Einterz said he believes the reason Hughes is always smiling is because she comes to St Francis. “I bet you would be smiling too,” he said.

Vera Hughes speaks about her decision to begin volunteering at St. Francis Soup Kitchen.

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