Views of the Valley: Neighbors helping neighbors

Mid Valley Outreach Program team leaders, from left, Ellen Walko, Rob Williams, Jim Roberts, Cindy Opalko and Joe Daniels.

There is something about the holiday season that brings out the best in people.

Perhaps in thinking about how grateful we are for all that we are and all that our families have, we pause to remember those who are less fortunate. The ever present and obvious needs, especially this year, likely impel us to action. Hopefully for me, part of the calculation is that we consider those in need part of our shared human family, making them our brothers and sisters as opposed to strangers.

Each year during the holiday season, and especially this year with all of the effects of COVID-19 on our lives and on our economy, individuals and organizations have increased their level of giving in support of the many offerings that are provided in connection with Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen, Food and Clothing Pantries. This has been not only in the form of financial contributions, but also donations of food and clothing. The need continues and expands, especially during colder and wetter months of the year, so our service to the poor and vulnerable among us must continue as well.

Critical to the success of nonprofit organizations like ours is volunteerism. During 2020, many among our volunteer workforce have rightly made the determination that they need to suspend their volunteer service so as to protect themselves and their families from the virus.

There are two main things that organizations like Saint Francis have had to do during these difficult times in order to continue the essential and lifesaving services like providing food to the hungry.

First, we have found ways to do more with less in terms of the size of the workforce. Second, we have streamlined our operations and sought ways to increase efficiency while maintaining a high level of service and keeping our guests, staff and remaining volunteers safe. I have had the good fortune, during this pandemic of witnessing dedication and effort on the part of staff and volunteers that is nothing short of heroic.

One program that was temporarily suspended during 2020 is called the Mid Valley Outreach Program. Saint Francis Kitchen staff have prepared and delivered hot nutritious meals to Archbald (Tuesday), Olyphant (Wednesday) and Carbondale (Thursday) each week for the past five years.

This program was suspended due to difficulty in maintaining the necessary local volunteers and in compliance with regulations related to large crowd gatherings.

I am happy to announce that this program has restarted at Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Carbondale beginning on Dec. 3. While dining in is not yet possible, meals will be distributed in a grab-and-go containers to our brothers and sisters in need.

The most striking aspect of the Mid Valley Outreach Program for me has been the dynamic that it involves local people serving local people, neighbors helping neighbors.

Each of the three churches has between 40 and 60 volunteers involved in serving the meals in their local community. The overall coordinator of the Mid Valley Outreach Program for Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Carbondale is Jim Roberts.

Rob Williams is the executive director of Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen and Food and Clothing Pantry.