For 42 years, the St. Francis of Assisi Soup Kitchen in Harrisburg has been living out the Corporal Work of Mercy of feeding the hungry. Through the charitable efforts of individuals, businesses, organizations and parishes, and with a dedicated group of volunteers as its backbone, the soup kitchen helps fulfill the basic needs of humanity by preparing and sharing hot and nutritious meals for those struggling with food insecurity.
Operating out of the former St. Francis of Assisi School behind the church on Market Street, the parish’s outreach ministry in Harrisburg’s Allison Hill neighborhood has been addressing an ongoing need since 1981. Yet even before its official ministry began more than four decades ago, the parish was serving the hungry by handing out sandwiches to those who came to the rectory door looking for something to eat.
Today, the soup kitchen prepares and serves between 150-200 meals at noontime, Monday through Friday, an eye-opening testimony to the ongoing basic needs and struggles faced by individuals and families in the area.
Bishop Timothy Senior visited the soup kitchen on Tuesday, September 12, where he learned about its history, operations and continuing mission before volunteering in the serving line set up on the facility’s front porch.
Leading a prayer and offering a blessing to the dozens of men, women and children who lined up to receive a hot meal, the bishop greeted people as he handed take-out containers to them.
Bishop Senior served alongside several volunteers who staffed the distribution tables. Downstairs in the kitchen, another group of volunteers prepared large trays and cauldrons of chicken, rice, beans and pasta salad, filling containers to the brim with nutritious and hearty meals.
Moving between the teams of volunteers and greeting a number of patrons, Father Manuel Avilés, OFM Cap., pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, reflected on the ministry of the soup kitchen.
“We know the Scriptures clearly said, ‘You saw me hungry, and you fed me.’ That’s something we try to do – to feed those that come,” he said.
“Every time I see this line, all I can think of is Jesus in the bread line,” the pastor said as he looked at the people receiving their food. “As they walk through, I realize that is Jesus coming for food, and that encourages us. It’s not an easy challenge because sometimes they’re not in the best attitude, but they’re here.”
“Scripture also tells us that Jesus said, ‘I came to serve, not to be served.’ If there is something that moves our hearts, it’s serving,” Father Aviles said. “And when you see the bishop here among us, a pastor smelling like the sheep and serving those in need…it moves your heart.”
While the soup kitchen’s mission is focused on serving the hungry, it is also a means of evangelizing and showing patrons the love that Christ has for them. Those who serve at the soup kitchen are given that opportunity, Father Aviles said.
“Maybe they don’t talk to them about the Gospel, but they might say ‘Good morning’ and give them a smile. That is real evangelization,” he said.
He expressed gratitude for the volunteers and benefactors that have been the heartbeat of the soup kitchen all these years, making a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. “Keep being a support to those who need it,” he said. Some of us are unable to come and be present here, but you can be present in other ways – through your prayers and your support.”
Learn more about how you can support the St. Francis of Assisi Soup Kitchen by contacting the parish at 717-232-1003.
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness