By Emily Darcy
Walking into a soup kitchen can feel over whelming for some, but once you walk into the St. Francis of Assisi soup kitchen, Monsignor Joseph Kelly quickly greets you. The gregarious manner in which he welcomes everyone greets helps put people to ease and make them feel as though they are simply meeting an old friend for lunch.
Msgr. Kelly, a University of Scranton alumnus, has been involved in social work for 50 years and has helped serve the community in many different facets.
“I was stationed as director of youth, I was on the seminary faculty and I was director of a facility for delinquent boys,” Msgr. Kelly said.
Through his many different roles, he has always continued his work with the poor.
“In the midst of all of that, I was always involved in feeding the poor, clothing them and to a certain extent, housing them,” Msgr. Kelly said.
Msgr. Kelly helped give insight to many of the poverty issues within the area. He mentioned that there are people who go to work but are still not able to provide for themselves and their families.
“Well the people that are needing services more and more are the working poor. There are people out here (in the soup kitchen) that work. Most of them are working part time and some of them are working full time and evening hours, but they’re not sustainable salaries,” Msgr. Kelly said.
He expanded on this when he brought up the idea of creating more sustainable jobs. Kelly mentioned how there is a difference between working a job and having a job that allows one to be able to provide for his or her family.
“There are numerous people who have part-time or even full-time jobs, but they’re seasonal and they’re sporadic. There’s something that people are sort of careful about putting someone on health insurance, because it’s very expensive… There are numerous people who are constantly being challenged to be able to provide for their families,” Msgr. Kelly said.
When asked what he felt the community could do to help with these issues, Msgr. Kelly discussed how there are several steps that need to be taken to improve the current situation for many members of our community.
“I think first of all, the minimum wage has to be raised, and secondly, there needs to be a greater effort at providing work opportunities. There’s something healing about actually having a job,” Msgr. Kelly said.
Kelly also gave insight into the harsh reality of the hardships that children and their parents face throughout the year.
“We have children on weekends, and we have children during the summer. During the summer is a real challenge. Free and reduced lunch isn’t taking place for so many kids. Sixty percent of the kids that go to Scranton high school are eligible for free and reduced lunch. So suddenly, there’s a lot for the summer,” Msgr. Kelly said.
During the summer the soup kitchen has to find a way to compensate for the increase in meals needed to provide to children in the area.
“The meal that is provided in the schools is a hot meal, and if you’re on free and reduced lunch, you have the opportunity for breakfast and a snack to take home with you. So when you stop, that becomes a real challenge,” Msgr. Kelly said.
The soup kitchen is constantly seeing an increase in members of the community whom it needs to serve. One of the main areas that constantly needs to be restocked is the pantry.
“Were seeing a huge increase in the pantry. We have a client choice pantry that’s a part of St. Francis kitchen, and I’ve seen the numbers growing all the time. In the month of January, we served over 600 families. In those 600 families, there were over 800 children involved,” Msgr. Kelly said.
When asked if the soup kitchen has felt a strain on its abilities because of the high volume of traffic, he was quick to say no and praise not only the volunteers but also the community in general.
“We have done a very good job of using social media and getting out the information. I find that people are very generous if they know what the need is.” Msgr. Kelly said. “While the numbers continue to grow both in the pantry and the free clothing store, and certainly the kitchen, I find that people are constantly bringing us the means by which we can provide.”
While he continues to work every day to help better the community he is serving, Msgr. Kelly understands that the things majority of us takes for granted everyday are so desperately needed by others.
“My focus is providing them with basic needs, food, clothes, and then as they establish some kind of relationship with you, seeing whether you can provide affordable housing. The cycle of poverty will never be broken until we are able to provide affordable safe housing,” Msgr. Kelly said.
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