The St. Susan Center has become a mainstay of Jamestown by providing three decades worth of food and fellowship to the community.
The St. Susan Center was established on Feb. 1 in 1984, in a small soup kitchen at St. James' School. It has since moved to a larger facility in the Jamestown Gateway Center, allowing it to reach the founder's goal of feeding 200 people per meal each day.
In a letter written by founder Rev. R. Nicholas Rafael in January of 1984, he stated, "If we as Christians know how close the poor are to Christ, then we must deeply care. One hungry person in our midst means that Christians have failed somehow. Now we can change that. ... The numbers are staggering, but with God's blessing, it will be done."
In its 30 years of continued service, the St. Susan Center has served more than 1,857,815 meals. The grand total isn't quite the 3 million that the founders had originally projected as possible, but in 2013 the center served on average more than 300 meals per day, and exceeded the 100,000 mark. In addition to the 176,372 pounds of food it served this year, the St. Susan Center also distributed 43,690 pounds of food to other area organizations. Via the Breakfast Tomorrow program, it also provided more than 2,000 take-home bag meals to area children while school was not in session during the summer season.
FOR THE PEOPLE
Sue Colwell, the current executive director for the St. Susan Center, hasn't been with the organization since its humble beginning, but in her eight years of service, she has gotten her hands dirty working in nearly every aspect of the soup kitchen. From volunteer to staff coordinator, kitchen manager and executive director - even cleaning toilets wasn't below Colwell.
"It's been a privilege doing all those things, and I sometimes still do them now," Colwell said. "The first thing I fell in love with was the people. I've watched a lot come in, and you get to know their deep, intimate stories. Despite their struggles, a lot of them are just like you and me, while some of them have just made really bad choices and are suffering the consequences. Getting to know these people has really touched my heart - that's why I wanted to be here."
Colwell has witnessed the growth of the program in its modern state - in ways such as number of volunteers, community support and quality of food served. From the first meal it served in 1984 - grilled cheese and tomato soup - to the richer, fuller, more nutritional meals served today, St. Susan Center has most certainly come a long way.
There are a variety of ways in which the community offers support to St. Susan Center, and no effort is too small.
From monetary donations accepted on and off-site, to creative fundraisers such as Soup and Song, annual basket auctions and community Giving Gardens, the means have been provided for nearly everyone to take part.
St. Susan Center is a program that depends heavily on support from the community, and wouldn't have been able to meet the goals of its founders without donations and fundraisers.
"We're here for the community because of the community," Colwell said. "I've seen more and more people get involved as far as volunteering, donating and fundraising. But, I wonder where we'll be in 5-10 years, because I don't know where else these people would go if not here. One meal a day might not seem like a lot, but there are people who have nothing - so one meal is huge."
Although it's hard to predict what the future holds, Colwell noted that she feels the need for support has grown, and will continue to grow into the following years. However, she also said she has a few plans to improve the sustainability of the project. Because the organization currently depends on the community for just about everything, she has concerns about what would happen if the community was no longer able to offer as much support.
FELLOWSHIP, DIGNITY, RESPECT
The St. Susan Center strives to provide a balanced, nutritious meal seven days a week, 361 days per year, to people in need.
St. Susan Center is a member of the Food Bank of Western New York, which provides support in the form of savings, essential funding and training opportunities. However, the organization also receives support from various area businesses, organizations, farmers and individuals.
The organization's mission states: "In response to the gospel, we freely offer meals, fellowship, dignity and respect to all who come through our doors."
The St. Susan Center is located at 31 Water in Jamestown. For more information, call 664-2253 or visit www.stsusancenter.org.