St. Francis Food Pantries and Shelters Touching Lives with Loving Care and Dignity

By Dale Reynolds

In an ever-increasingly affluent society the hard fact of life is that there are literally millions of our neighbors who have no home, no livelihood and far too little to eat. Government at all levels provides some of the basic needs, but the need is far too great.

Filling that need increasingly falls to the private sector, much of that to faith-based organizations.

St. Francis Pantries and Shelter has stepped into the breech by providing tens of thousands of meals, clothing, shelter and much more to help those in need in the Metropolitan area.

“We feed more than 10,000 families a year,” commented Joe Sano, one of the founders of the charity. “We’ll provide food at one of our pantries; we offer food to take home as well as clothing in winter. If an appliance, such as a refrigerator, breaks down, we are there to help.”

If that appliance has seen better days, St. Francis will offer a grant so that the needy family can purchase a replacement.

Sano and Father Francis Gasparik saw the need some 17 years ago and decided that something had to be done to lend assistance to those less fortunate individuals. Some were from families where parents or caretakers were not able to earn enough to properly care for them. Others simply had virtually nothing at all.

The segment of working poor is rapidly growing. With the economy in not the best condition there are thousands of mothers and fathers who are employed but cannot earn enough to feed their families. This is where St. Francis can step in and help with the necessities and take some of the pressure off of them and help them to retain their dignity..

Annually St. Francis provides some 1.5 million meals, 10,000 cases of food and 7,000 Thanksgiving turkeys to those in need. There are other needs that often are missed and St. Francis seeks to fill that void as well: babies need diapers and many parents are hard-pressed to afford them. For these families St. Francis provides more than 10,000 diapers a year.

Children in school present a special case. To avoid having them stand out as different from other students, the organization offers them backpacks filled with school supplies so they can learn on an equal footing.

“By providing educational support,” Sano said, “we help them to improve. Also, hunger is a major cause of illiteracy. When students are fed decently, they are more apt to be alert and learn.”

When you are hungry, learning is one of the last things on your mind.

Major corporations have come to participate in the effort and were responsible for making some 75,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for distribution. It’s a community effort.

One of the fund raising activities is the “Celebrity Doodle,” where celebrities contribute a doodle art work that is then auctioned off. One of those to take part in this activity is NYLM Executive Publisher Ernie Anastos who has been active with St. Francis for many years.

The organization is interested in feeding the soul as well as the stomach. Youngsters are often given tickets to sporting events and the theater so that they may have a respite from the rigors of daily life and develop an appreciation for the arts.

Dignity is important in giving the clients of St. Francis an opportunity to develop self-worth. The organization operates “drop-in centers” where guests can get a hot meal, a shower and decent clothes. Looking for a job is easier when you can make a good personal appearance. The same holds true for students in school.

“The shelters make the homeless feel comfortable and provide a safe place for them to sleep,” Sano commented.

St. Francis has come up with some innovative ways to serve its community. One of the favorites is “Thanksgiving in February,” where perhaps 900 clients come in and are served a great turkey dinner.

“After the holidays the poor tend to be a forgotten group,” Sano said. “We try to remedy that.”

“We are getting less and less government funding and that makes our mission more difficult. We need the private and business sector to step up and assist.”

St. Francis provides for 40 pantries and soup kitchens, senior centers and thousands of individuals in New York City, Long Island, Westchester and New Jersey.

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