PLAINS TWP. — The food was varied and plentiful.
The cause? Never-ending.
Hundreds of area residents brought their appetites to the Woodlands Inn on Sunday afternoon to partake of gourmet offerings in support of St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen on East Jackson Street in Wilkes-Barre, and its work to feed those who can barely afford to provide even basic meals for themselves.
“It’s up about 10 percent over a year ago,” Monsignor Joseph Kelly said of the number of guests served by the kitchen.
More than 400 meals are being served at lunchtime, seven days a week, with 200 or more dinners served on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Kelly, executive director of Catholic Social Services, was pleased to see the turnout for “A Celebration of Food,” as the event marking the kitchen’s 30th anniversary had been dubbed. Area restaurants and other food-service providers donated gourmet food and raffle items to serve guests who paid $30 per person or $50 per pair for tickets to benefit the kitchen.
Kelly predicted the event could bring in as much as $50,000 for the kitchen, or double what organizers had hoped.
“We’re so happy with the turnout,” he said.
But his joy at Sunday’s packed house stands in contrast to the sobering $400,000 per year that it costs to serve basic meals to needy individuals and families — and that is with a 90 percent volunteer staff, the monsignor said.
Sister Lucille Brislin knows the need all too well. She was named the kitchen’s first on-site coordinator in 1983, and admits that the problems facing needy people today are an even greater challenge than what organizers encountered 30 years ago.
“What we see now is that the issue of poverty is far more complex, there are more layers of poverty,” Brislin said, noting that more people in what had been the middle class are finding themselves struggling to provide the essentials of life.
Scranton Bishop Joseph C. Bambera praised the kitchen’s work, adding that many who greeted him Sunday wanted to chat about the Catholic Church’s new leader, Pope Francis. Bambera reminded the audience of the new pontiff’s emphasis on Jesus Christ’s message of serving others before serving oneself, as he said kitchen staff and volunteers have done.
Other fundraisers, including the kitchen’s main “sponsor for a day” program, also help keep the food on the tables.
Dave Shemo, president of the St. Vincent Kitchen Advisory Board, said Sunday’s event was a fitting way to recognize the kitchen’s three decades of service while raising funds.
“We are an agency that feeds people, 365 days a year,” Shemo said. “What better way to celebrate that than to have a festival of food?”
Presenting sponsors of the event were attorney and Mrs. Carl N. Frank, Mericle Commercial Real Estate, McCarthy Tire Service and Sundance Vacations.
“I’m touched by the generosity,” Shemo said. “And I’m not surprised, because our community is a generous one.”