The Herald, Sharon, PA Published Sunday, June 16, 2002


Center's soup is more than just good food
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Kitchen marks 10 years of helping out

By Kristen Garrett
Herald Staff Writer

An oil painting of Sister Benita Repasky looking out and smiling as she stirs a pot of food hangs in the Prince of Peace Center's Soup Kitchen as a tribute to the woman who started it all a decade ago.

Prince of Peace is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the soup kitchen started by Sister Benita, who passed away in July 1999.

"This was a dream of Sister Benita's," the center's Sister Claire Marie Beichner said.

That dream will be celebrated with an anniversary party from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday at the Prince of Peace Center on Darr Avenue. Dinner will be served from 4 to 5 p.m., and cookies and punch will be served at an open house where volunteers, including those who are deceased, will be recognized.

In 1991 the Prince of Peace Center was located on Roemer Boulevard, and the building was too small to house a soup kitchen, Sister Claire said. Sister Benita worked with the people, saw the need for a soup kitchen and that year a new center was built on Darr Avenue, Sister Claire said.

Ten years ago there were people who didn't think there was a need for a soup kitchen and thought it wouldn't work, Sister Claire said.

Over the years the number of meals served each year has declined, and that's something Sister Claire said she views as a positive thing. In 1997 the kitchen served 12,275 meals; in 2001 the number was down to 9,725, according to Prince of Peace Center figures.

Sister Claire said the decrease means more people are working, more kids are participating in after-school programs and people have benefited from the center's work.

"We know we're still serving a need even if the numbers have gone down," Sister Claire said.

Shirley Major-Friday, program director at Prince of Peace, said the soup kitchen feeds about 80 people on an average day.

The center provides fellowship along with the meal, Mrs. Major-Friday said.

Evidence of that can be seen through Helen, an 85-year-old Farrell woman.

"When you live alone seven days a week you don't see anybody, you don't talk to anybody," Helen said. She added that she has difficulty cooking and often ends up eating the same food all week.

"I come when I can. Sociability is what I come for mostly," Helen said. She added that she used to volunteer at the soup kitchen when it first began.

Volunteers from local churches take turns running the soup kitchen, which is open from 4 to 5 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. Currently there are volunteers from Second Baptist Church, Farrell; New Virginia United Methodist Church, Hermitage; St. Joseph Church, Sharon; Church of the Good Shepherd, West Middlesex; the Secular Franciscans; Notre Dame Church, Hermitage; Ruth AME Zion, Sharon and St. Ann's Church, Farrell.

"We have been blessed with most of those same volunteers 10 years later," Sister Claire said.

Blanche Callahan, a volunteer with Second Baptist Church, said she went to the Prince of Peace Center to pick up food for someone and Sister Benita told her she signed her up to cook. Mrs. Callahan said she believes God guided her to the center and Sister Benita.

"I feel like as long as I'm giving to others my life is worthwhile," Mrs. Callahan said. "I truly enjoy doing things for others."

"I enjoy doing it. I like going down there and cooking," Sue Hennessy, a volunteer with Church of the Good Shepherd, said. Mrs. Hennessy said she's helped to organize the soup kitchen since it started 10 years ago and enjoys cooking homemade meals.

Gloria Gillespie, a volunteer from Farrell, said she needed help 10 years ago and walked into the very first soup kitchen with her family.

"It was beautiful. I'll never forget it. It was just a beautiful experience," Ms. Gillespie said. She said she was able to get her life in order and now enjoys helping others.

"This has helped me a lot," said James, a man struggling with personal problems. James said he also got counseling and spiritual guidance through the soup kitchen. "It's meant a lot to me," he said.

Ronald, another soup kitchen patron, said he was technically homeless until last week. By going to the soup kitchen, he said he got off the street and a decent meal.

Mrs. Major-Friday said the kitchen operates under the same code standards as restaurants, and the menu always contains a variety of healthy food items.

Carol Christoff, a 10-year volunteer from Notre Dame, said she signed up to work at the soup kitchen after seeing an advertisement in her church bulletin. She said the same group of volunteers has worked with her, and they've become close friends.

Gary Plummber, 16, of Sharon, volunteered Wednesday for the first time. He said he needed work experience and wanted to help people.

Sister Claire said the kitchen only serves meals two days a week because they want to encourage people to help themselves and become independent.

You can e-mail Herald Staff Writer Kristen Garrett at

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