WILKES-BARRE — Feeding 300 people is no easy task.
Try doing it seven days a week.
The St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen at 39 E. Jackson St. has proudly served the community for the last 35 years.
“Our soup kitchen helps the elderly, families, the working poor, the poor and anyone that needs help,” said Mike Cianciotta, the kitchen’s program director. “People need food. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity.”
He continued: “A lot of people come because they don’t have anything or anyone. When some of the elderly folks come in, it’s like a social event for them.”
Cianciotta, 58, has worked at the kitchen for eight years. Part of his job as program director is to serve as a chef, make the menus and coordinate with donors and volunteers.
“We wouldn’t survive without donations,” he said. “A lot of stores, local businesses, and private donors help us out with products for the kitchen.”
Cianciotta acknowledged that donations have been down in the past year.
“Yeah we’ve seen a decrease in donations,” he noted. “But without them and the great volunteers, we wouldn’t survive.”
The St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen sees an average of 10 to 20 volunteers on a daily basis.
“We’ve truly been lucky with our volunteers,” Cianciotta added. “They are very dedicated. Some have been coming for over 20 years.”
He also noted the importance of local colleges and their impact on the kitchen as it celebrates its 35th anniversary.
“The local colleges not only help us out with food donations but they help us out by encouraging volunteers,” he said. “Even when the college students fulfill their service requirements, some still come back because of the positive experience they had.”
‘Who are we to judge?’
St. Vincent de Paul, a French Catholic priest, dedicated his life to serving the poor. The kitchen named after him continues his mission of compassion, humility and generosity today.
“We don’t judge people. We are here to serve,” Cianciotta said. “Our job here is to make the people comfortable and provide a meal for them.”
He continued: “Who are we to judge what a person looks like and what they may be going through in their life?”
The kitchen serves lunch every day of the week from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. It also serves dinner Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights from 5-6.
Aside from serving food, it has a clothes closet that is always seeking donations. The program typically receives used clothing, which is then separated and folded before clients have the opportunity to take however much they may need without any limit.
Cianciotta encourages people to volunteer and visit the kitchen to see the great work his team is doing.
“You would be surprised at how much this place helps the community,” he said. “We could always use more volunteers.”
To get involved, call 570-829-7796, ext. 301, or check out the St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen page on Facebook.
Volunteers man the assembly line at the St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen on Saturday in Wilkes-Barre. From left to right: Debbie George, Reena Khurana, Rashmi Arosa, Jay Pande, Mona Pande and Rathna Reddy.
Reach Dan Stokes at 570-991-6389 or on Twitter @ByDanStokes