A special report on hunger in NEPA
Volunteers make kitchen thrive Vincent Mecca
Most people look forward to retirement. Many anticipate retirement as a time to relax, knowing you’ve put in your time, paid your dues, and hopefully, created a foundation of wealth to support yourself. 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 Westo-
ver, 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. Elysabethe Brown/ The Wood Word Francis really serves. She said she believes that sometimes Volunteer for 14 years, Vera Hughes (front), folds napkins and prepares there are negative stereotypes for the bread for the incoming clients at the St. Francis of Assisi Soup those who need food assistance. Kitchen. “I was talking to someone the other day and he said he didn’t think and provides a fabulous ser- body whom St. Francis accepts, we should be feeding people at the vice to the kitchen and to the no questions asked,” said Hughes. said Einterz. But no matter who walks through soup kitchen because they were community.” Hughes went on to clarify that the door at St. Francis, Hughes is bums. But they are just people the soup kitchen does not turn always glad to welcome and serve like you and me,” Westover said. According to Seth Einterz, volun- away anyone, regardless of them, and she does so with a smile. Einterz said he believes the reateer coordinator, Hughes volunteers why they may need assistance. “Some are down on their luck, son Hughes is always smiling is beon Mondays and Fridays and is reand sometimes just poor. And cause she comes to St Francis. “I bet ferred to as a “regular” at St. Francis. “She enjoys working here it’s a mix of anybody and every- you would be smiling too,” he said.
This special report, pgs. 9-12, is the work of students in Dr. Lindsey Wotanis’ course Comm. 224: Electronic Newsgathering Seminar. This spread was produced by Vincent Mecca in fufillment of his senior capstone project. More stories on hunger in NEPA can be found online at www.comm224.wordpress.com.
Local agencies work to fight hunger in Northeast PA asked to bring a donation of canned food or a monetary donation at the door. People who donated were then entered into a raffle for “Hunger Games” items and movie passes. “Media has done the trick when we get low. It’s a whole lot of asking people to be generous,” Berg said. The tough times come when the food banks do not have enough to give. The reality of empty shelves causes people to go without food. For UNC, empty shelves mean turning people away and telling them to come back when a new supply arrives. But that’s not easy, said Berg. “It’s very sad, very sad,” she said.
Molly Boylan/The Wood Word
Shannon Cooper, coordinator of volunteers for Meals on Wheels collects food to donate to clients in West Scranton. Molly Boylan
Hunger is global problem. Yet many Americans are unaware that their neighbors or co-workers are struggling to feed their families. In Lackawanna County, the problem is greater than many people might assume. And, it’s not just families that struggle. Many local food banks and non-profit hunger organizations struggle with keeping their pantries full so that they might provide for the hungry. Hunger hardships in Northeast Pennsylvania occur 365 days a year. Food organizations in Lackawanna County strive to provide nutritional food for the community by accepting donations and government or state money. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Pennsylvania in 2011 was an estimated 12.7 million. Feeding America reports that 13.5 percent of Pennsylvanians are food insecure. This means that approximately 1.7 million Pennsylvanians do not always have access to food to live an active or healthy life. Michael Hanley, executive director of United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania, says hunger lives in Lackawanna County.
“Hunger is an issue. It’s a hidden issue, and it’s an issue that really affects families in every zip code here in Lackawanna County,” he said. United Neighborhood Center uses the media to spark donations For many local food banks, a majority of donations arrive around Thanksgiving and Christmas, when organizations engage the communities by holding well-publicized food drives. The United Neighborhood Center of Northeastern Pennsylvania (UNC) is able to stock the shelves of its food and clothing pantry, called Angel’s Attic, to capacity and maintain them until January or February because of the seasonal food drives. However, with an average of 56 families a day asking for food from the UNC, the shelves empty quickly. When the food is at a minimum in the pantries, organizations tend to reach out to the community through media. Recently, Pam Berg, supervisor of emergency services of UNC, said Ryan Leckey, WNEP, Cinemark 20 and XD in Moosic, reached out the UNC because they wanted to support a local food organization by generating awareness and support through the recent movie premier of “The Hunger Games.” Moviegoers were
Salvation Army distributes food Major Bea Connell, of the Salvation Army in Scranton, said that her volunteers would not turn people away, but may have to give them less food when supplies are low. “Instead of three boxes of cereal, maybe they would only get one box of cereal. We would rather give them something versus not giving them anything,” Major Connell said. Major Connell says the pantry has never been completely empty, but when it is they too reach out to the community through the news media, calling for donations from the community. “People always respond to needs when they see them. Need knows no season,” she said. Salvation Army has a five-day food pantry for low income community members. Last year, Salvation Army served more than 7,000 families. Each family that receives aid from the organization gets a supply meant to last two weeks. The items consist of perishable and non-perishable foods. The amount of food distributed to the family depends on the size of the family. SalvationArmygetsitsfooditemsfromStateFood Purchase Program, United Way, and donations. “We count on donations when the food shelves get really low” she said. Additional aid for food pantries is available through the State Food Purchase Program (SFPP), a program through Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, which supplements the efforts of emergency assistance programs to reduce hunger. The grants provided through SFPP have minor stipulations for the organizations. They must account for where they money goes and prove that there were bids taken from grocery stores to find the best deals.
Meals on Wheels delivers food to local elderly Meals on Wheels of Northeast Pennsylvania, a non-profit that deals directly with elderly and homebound seniors’ food insecurity issues, receives the majority of their assistance from the Area Agency on Aging of Lackawanna County, which is funded by the state. While the Area Agency on Aging subsidizes the cost of most meals, Meals on Wheels also accepts monetary donations from the community and conducts fundraisers. Shannon Cooper, coordinator of volunteers, noticed that the cost of everything is continually going up, creating greater hardships for the organization to provide for area seniors. “The amount [of money] we get does not cover the cost of [the] food [we provide],” she said. Meals on Wheels is primarily run with the help of volunteers delivering the meals. Many seniors are eligible to have to costs covered by Agency on Aging; however, some seniors pay out of pocket $5.50 per meal. Cooper said that dealing with senior hunger is different because “they go to the grocery store when they can, buy only things they can carry. They have no stamina to stand and cook a meal,” she said. Volunteers are required to make contact with the recipients of the meal and are often the only person a senior citizen may see that day. Often times, family members come to rely on the volunteers to check up on their loved ones, as they visit them regularly when delivering meals. Cooper recalled a time when a daughter of a client called Meals on Wheels to check on her father. For Meals on Wheels, the volunteers are the ones that keep the organization running by picking up meals and delivering them to their immediate community. Cooper said her favorite part of her job is training new volunteers to deliver meals. “I love seeing people choose to take action and help out in their community. It is a win-win situation,” said Cooper. Hanley, UNC, said he believes the strength of the people of Lackawanna County is their willingness to help their neighbors when they know there is a need. “I think there is a tremendous compassion here in this community and people really want to make a difference. So it’s a matter of letting them know when and how to make a difference,” he said.
Mother struggles to feed family with minimal SNAP assistance Elysabethe Brown Alicia Quetel, a day care worker from Easton, PA, walks into her local Shop Rite after dropping off her children at school. She smiles as she grabs a nearby cart. “Today we just need a few things,” she said. Quetel is a mother of three boys and a guardian to her niece. Together with her husband, she struggles to feed her family. “We just started receiving food stamps. They kept telling me I made too much money,” she said. Because Governor Tom Corbett has decided to reinstate an asset test many people will face a problem similar to The Quetels. According to pittsburghfoodbank. org an estimated 36,000 Pennsylvanians are expected to be denied food assistance after May 1. According to The Associated Press, the test will disqualify those applying for food stamps who own more than
$5,500 in assets and $9,000 on households who have a disabled or elderly person. “By the end of the month I’m spending money that I just don’t have,” she said. The Quetel household receives $100 a month from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. The average amount a U.S. household receives is $277.27. Mrs. Quetel explained that because both she and her husband work, she does not receive as much money as other families. “It’s just not fair,” she said. “The government needs to look into that stuff. Right now we struggle to make ends meet. Some people get $500 a month and don’t even use it all.” Mrs. Quetel scans the aisles, carefully comparing prices between items. She explained that her children’s school does not offer any kind of lunch or meal assistance program for the children. “It takes the pressure off when they
have special days where the kids can pre-order pizza or hot dogs for $2,” she said. “But that is only two days a week.” She picks up small bags of chips and lunch meat. “Today is Wednesday so I have to buy the smaller packs since they only have two more days of school. I try to buy the family size, but it goes bad so quickly. Sometimes I have to buy smaller packs of food, which cost more.” Mrs. Quetel picks up a bag of oranges, which she explained is one of the cheapest fruits, and heads to the checkout line. She said that she becomes so frustrated with the SNAP program because she sees fraud going on which “ruins it for people like my family who actually need it.” After paying a total of $89 for her groceries, she heads out of the store smiling. “I had to use some of the benefits and some money on my credit card, but we made it,” said Quetel. Walking to the exit, Mrs. Quetel re-
vealed that she once bought $80 worth of food stamps for $60 from another woman. This is not an unusual occurrence. According to CNS News, 46.3 million recipients of food stamps have traded their food stamps for cash. Mrs. Quetel said that she cannot be sad about where she is in her life right now. “We all make choices and you can’t blame others for those choices. You have to do what is right for you.”
Fast Facts: Children & Hunger •
Child poverty rates have been continuing in an upward trend since the year 2000.
Children with single mothers are more than five times as likely to live in poverty than those living with married parents.
Children and teens in poverty are at greater risk for negative outcomes like poor academic achievements, behavioral and socioemotional problems, physical health problems, and developmental delays.
Chronic stress related to living in poverty has been shown to affect a child’s concentration and memory negatively, which could alter their ability to learn.
Inadequate education adds to the cycle of children being unable to lift themselves and future generations out of poverty.
*Find more facts courtesy of the American Psychological Association at www.apa.org Elysabethe Brown/ The Wood Word
Alicia Quetel looks through foods on the shelves of Shop Rite in Easton. She often decides against buying fruit and healthier options due to the higher prices, which she is unable to afford.
12 Hunger in NEPA
Soup Kitchen nourishes a diverse population To add insult to injury, Miguel lost his wife after becoming jobless. “If you have no money, you have no honey,” said Miguel. This was a major contributing factor to Miguel’s homelessness. Eligible for welfare, Miguel refuses to collect the benefits. “I want to work for myself,” said Miguel. However, because he does not have a permanent residence, Miguel is having a hard time finding a job. Until then, he said he will continue to utilize the kitchen. According to feedingamerica.org, Pennsylvania’s food insecurity rate is 13.5%. Sadly, Miguel is one of the statistics.
Elysabethe Brown/ The Wood Word
Students volunteer at St. Francis of Assisi Soup Kitchen to gain insight on hunger in NEPA. Victoria Garafola, Mindy Westover (community volunteer), Megan McGraw and Vincent Mecca (left to right) peel potatoes to prep for a meal. Megan McGraw A group begins to form outside of a small, discreet, partially brown brick building on Penn Avenue in Scranton. The doors won’t open until close to 11:00 a.m., but the clients gather early. By 10:30 a.m., the line of patiently waiting individuals has substantially increased in number. At approximately 10:50 a.m., the glass double-doors open and the crowd gathered outside is allowed into the foyer. There is no rush or chaos, just a calm anticipation for what is to come. Unlike what some may think, this is not a crowd awaiting the launch of the newest piece of technology at a big-box store. On the contrary, they are waiting for what might be their only meal for the day. This is what a routine day looks like at St. Francis of Assisi Soup Kitchen in Scranton. Once clients enter, the meal opens with a prayer from Msgr. Joesph Kelly, executive director, or one of the many regular volunteers. Once the prayer is complete, a volunteer calls out, “five at a time,” and the lunch procession begins. The kitchen offers a daily lunch from 11 a.m. to noon, when volunteers serve approximately 200 meals, according to Msgr. Kelly. “We are very dependent upon donations,” says Msgr. Kelly. Everything from
food to volunteer time is donated to the soup kitchen. St. Francis receives food from local grocery stores, restaurants and even businesses like Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. In addition to lunch, St. Francis of Assisi Soup Kitchen offers a dinner service on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 5 - 6 p.m. A diverse clientele Msgr. Kelly explained that the clients, or those who benefit from the services offered by the kitchen, could be divided into three categories. They are the homeless, the “second tier,” and the working poor. The first category could be described as the “real” homeless, or those who live outside year-round. They do not seek out the help of local shelters. “They live down along the river, under the bridge or various unsoundly spots,” said Msgr. Kelly. The second category, or those that Msgr. Kelly refers to as the “second tier,” are people in transition between living on the streets and finding a residence. Through the help of Catholic Social Services, those in the second tier can stay in a shelter for 30 days while they work to get on their feet. From there, clients are able to move into transitional housing. Finally, the third category benefiting from the services St. Francis provides would
be the working poor. The working poor can be classified as those who are working part-time or full-time, but barely getting by. They are able to utilize the soup kitchen and in turn, put money toward their bills instead of worrying about feeding themselves. While there are categories in place to classify the clients, an outside observer would find it difficult to tell them apart by appearance alone. “No money, no honey” Miguel, a St. Francis client, now frequents the kitchen since becoming homeless a few years ago. A short, stocky man, Miguel greeted friends and others with a broad smile. He wore a baseball cap over salt-and-pepper colored hair, a crew neck sweatshirt and a pair of jeans. At first glance, Miguel doesn’t outwardly show any sign of being homeless. Miguel, born in Guatemala, came to the United States at 19 years-old to help support his family. According to Miguel, he worked odd jobs throughout the country until finally settling in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area. “I’m not here because I went to jail or fell into drugs. I’m here because of sad circumstances.” A former janitor, Miguel lost his job and ended up on the streets. The soup kitchen has been a great source to him over the past couple of years.
Out of sight, out of mind While the kitchen benefits greatly from the generosity of the public, it does face opposition from time to time. The St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen in WilkesBarre deals with objection from the public due to its location near King’s College. “There are certainly people in the community that would be happy if we got out of there,” Msgr. Kelly said. Unlike in Wilkes-Barre, the kitchen in Scranton does not face any problems. The kitchen’s location on 500 Penn Avenue,situated across from a rundown warehouse, allows for an out of sight, out of mind mentality for the public, according to Msgr. Kelly. People are willing to help the hungry explained Msgr. Kelly, but he explained that helping the hungry is about more than hunger. “[The problem] isn’t just hunger, it’s poverty,” said Kelly. The public has a hard time supporting something they do not understand, he said. The image of poverty that the public has is sometimes less than favorable explained Kelly. “When guys are coming down the street and they stop behind a bush in your yard to relieve themselves, that is not as socially acceptable as hunger,” said Kelly, in regard to the public perception of food insecure vs. poverty. With the state’s population closing in on 13 million that means nearly 1.7 million are facing food insecurity in this state alone. However, places like St. Francis of Assisi Soup Kitchen are helping to combat this problem in Scranton, Pennsylvania. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, at least 12.4% of Pennsylvanians were below the poverty line between 2006 and 2010.