The St. Susan Center in Jamestown has been serving up hot meals to those in need for nearly three decades.
Friday marked the 29th anniversary for the organization, which has served almost 1.75 million meals during that time. In 2012 alone, more than 98,000 meals were served, almost three times the number served in their first year of operations.
"My biggest thing is wondering where all of these people would be if it wasn't for the St. Susan Center," said Sue Colwell, executive director. "We have homeless people come in, families, children - we get the entire spectrum, and we're only open because of the support people in this community. We have volunteers, we get donations and grants from individuals, families, churches, businesses and more. We couldn't be here if the community wasn't as involved as it is."
The St. Susan Center also collaborates with other regional agencies, including the Food Bank of WNY, where they purchase a large portion of the food used in their meals. According to Colwell, a can of fruit that might cost $1 at a grocery store could cost the St. Susan Center as little as 20 percent of that price, as long as the Food Bank has that item in stock.
"It takes a lot to run the soup kitchen," said Colwell. "It costs $2.50 per meal on average and people get fruit, dairy, vegetables, protein - it's a balanced meal. When we opened the doors 29 years ago, the first meal that we served was grilled cheese and tomato soup. Now, people get a good, hot meal thanks to donations. It could be roasted chicken or it could be a hot dog depending on what we have that day, but we do our best to make sure that it's a well-balanced meal. As often as we can we use fresh fruit and vegetables, too."
There is a donation box, and while donations are appreciated by the center, they're not required for a meal. The St. Susan Center operates with the help of between 75 and 100 volunteers with as many as 20 to 30 working on any given day. According to Colwell, the St. Susan Center also participates in the Welfare to Work program, which requires anyone who receives cash assistance to give some time back to the community. Some of the volunteers also work through community service efforts, whether it is mandated by the courts for non-violent crimes or if the volunteer is a student who is in need of volunteer hours.
"There are only seven of us on staff, so we rely very heavily on our volunteers," said Colwell. "If we had to figure out even minimum wage for the volunteers, the cost would be huge. We have some that only work once a month, but we have others that are here every week."
A large portion of the operating budget for the St. Susan Center comes from fundraisers that are held throughout the year. These include events like the upcoming "Soup and a Song" nights which are held at the center, a basket fair that will take place at Chautauqua Suites in Mayville and the Oktobenefest which is held every fall at Southern Tier Brewery.
"Other people in the community will do small fundraisers for us, too, " said Colwell. "Several years ago, someone at Jamestown High School decided that they wanted to help us out so they decided to have their head shaved and have people make donations. He brought in several hundred dollars for us, just from having people watch him get a haircut. Things like that help us out a lot. Any amount makes a difference for us."