Assumption Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen, Syracuse, New York
One million pounds is a lot of food distributed in less than 10 years. But at Assumption Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen, in Syracuse, New York, that’s only a portion of what’s been given to those seeking assistance.
“Our Franciscan charism is lived out in a two-fold perspective,” said Friar Joe Krondon, the Director. “On the inside, we have an amazing volunteer team made up of wonderful people. We strive to give them a sense of dignity by treating them with compassion and respect. It’s not a question of ‘What do you need?’ It’s in a spirit of ‘How are you?’ This is at the core of how we bring the Franciscan spirit to the people we serve.”
“There is a palpable joy inside that spills out to those who come here. They’re treated as human beings, which sometimes for people in their situation is not the case. By treating people with respect, they know they don’t have to try to bargain – we work with them. They aren’t treated as a number, and people feel comfortable when they come here.”
The one million pounds of food has come from the Food Bank of Central New York, so that number doesn’t include other donations that the Food Pantry receives.
“We distribute mostly dry goods through the Pantry – cans of food, pasta, rice, cereal, etc.” Friar Joe said. “But there’s also a random assortment of whatever the Food Bank has and whatever has been donated, such as different meats, eggs, milk, and other things. We also give out toiletries and hygiene products.”
“People can come twice a month and receive enough for every person in the household to have five days of food, or 15 meals. We’re a bit of an anomaly in the area: most food pantries are only open one day a week, or a couple of times a month. We tend to be the most accessible, and some of the people call us the best. We just try to have both good quality and quantity.”
The number of those seeking help has increased sharply in recent months.
“When I arrived here in June of 2022, a busy day was around 20 families; now it’s around 30-plus” Friar Joe said. “In the winter we were serving a little less than 400 families a month, then in March it spiked to 536. The increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called ‘food stamps’) benefits and other covid-emergency programs have ended, and people need the help.
“It’s the same with the Soup Kitchen. In the winter there were about 7,500 to 9,000 meals given out every month, then in March we cleared more than 10,000.”
The Soup Kitchen’s history goes back more than 100 years to when the Franciscan Sisters began handing sandwiches to the poor miners and those in need. Their congregation also included St. Marianne Cope TOSF, who professed her vows at Assumption Parish in 1863. Most famous for her work with St. Damien serving the people of Molokai who suffered from Hansen’s Disease (leprosy), St. Marianne’s shrine is only a few blocks away from Assumption Church in Syracuse. By the 1970s, there was an established Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen at Assumption.
Different agencies partner with the Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen. In the lobby where people line up, there is an area with tables where organizations can provide information on SNAP and other benefits, public and private health services, educational opportunities, and even free tax preparation services. Assumption also has the Poverello Health Center which provides free health services and screenings to those who do not have or cannot afford insurance.
“We couldn’t have accomplished this without our volunteers,” Friar Joe said. “Our volunteers extend far beyond our own parish. We have many people from parishes in the area, other Christian groups, the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, and others from all sorts of backgrounds. They’re able to connect with each other with the common goal of serving others. We take care of physical needs, of course, but sometimes we serve emotional and spiritual needs too.
“It’s a huge team effort. It’s a shame that the need is so great, but we’re happy we have the opportunity to try to meet it.”
Friar Joe is still in formation as a Franciscan, and is serving his Apostolic Year in Syracuse. He hopes to stick around a while.
“This has definitely breathed new life into my vocation,” he said. “I was a little burned out dealing with school, personal losses, the pandemic. But I came here and really fell in love with service to the poor, which is at the heart of our Franciscan charism. You’re not going to work with the poor and leave unchanged.
“I love food, and not just eating it. I love to prepare creative and delicious meals, and I am so happy to be able to share these God-given gifts with our local community when I can. Again, our emphasis in the soup kitchen is to serve a nutritious and delicious meal, and our team of volunteers always deliver.
“We know we can’t do everything, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer need. But we do what we can and have to turn the rest over to God.”