When Anne Marie McCawley retired earlier this year, she told me she always felt that she was just there.
There was the St. Vincent dePaul Kitchen on Jackson Street, where McCawley spent most of her time seeing that those in need got a meal each day.
McCawley died Friday in hospice care.
It wasn't until her last day on the job that McCawley got a real sense of the impact her work had had on the clients served at the kitchen every day. Monsignor Joseph Kelly, executive director of Catholic Social Service, had McCawley personally hand out dessert to every client at the kitchen that day.
It was then McCawley realized how important her work was.
She saw the thankfulness in their eyes – in their soft, yet appreciative smiles as they accepted their sweet treat from the sweetest woman they had ever known.
McCawley realized the kitchen's clients not only appreciated her work, but also that they recognized the genuineness of her devotion to each and every one of them. She saw each as a fellow human being who for whatever reason – and the reasons have increased in recent years – found themselves as beneficiaries of her compassion.
Every day McCawley went about the business of finding donors, volunteers and bargains to ensure that every person walking through the door of the kitchen received a meal. It was a mission McCawley lived by all those years.
When she unceremoniously retired, McCawley consented to an interview. She was never one for headlines or personal recognition. And on this day, you could tell she was right when she said it was time for her to retire.
She was weary, yet she smiled when she talked about her customers. When told her friend Hank – a tiny woman from the Pittston area who takes a couple of buses to volunteer at the kitchen every day - said she would miss seeing her at the kitchen, McCawley smiled and said, I will miss her too, and added, and I will miss them all.
As the need grew in Wyoming Valley, McCawley met the challenge. She never let anyone go hungry. And she started a clothes closet and toy drive so needy families could keep themselves warm in winter and their children could have a Merry Christmas.
It wasn't a job for McCawley – it was her life. She believed she was chosen to run the kitchen – to ensure that people who needed help, got help.
When she retired in August she said she planned to plant a garden and to travel a little. Sadly, we will never know if she possessed a green thumb, and she never got the chance to see the parts of the world she wanted to see.
Yet I doubt McCawley would lament these things. I am certain she felt she lived a fulfilled life.
She established a legacy that not only needs to continue – it must.
Hungry people must be fed. As the greater Wyoming Valley community prepares for Thanksgiving and Christmas, we must pause and remember Anne Marie McCawley and the St. Vincent dePaul Kitchen and its clients. We must remember all of the food banks that exist to distribute food to those less fortunate.
To pay tribute to McCawley would be for each of us, before we purchase one holiday gift and before we sit down for a bountiful dinner, to donate time, food or money to her kitchen or to another charity serving the needy.
McCawley said She was just there. Well, now she is not there and we remain here.
Show the world you care so that as long as places like St. Vincent dePaul Kitchen need to be there, that you will be there for them.
Anne Marie McCawley would like that.