Serving the North Side

Feb. 27-March 5,2003
VOL 122 NO. 8
Serving the North Side
By Kristen Fox / SUN contributing writers
A good thing just got better. The free food pantry and medical services offered by the Franciscan community on Syracuse’s North Side have recently expanded to help even more struggling people.

“The larger food pantry and medical clinic will allow us to serve a greater number of people and do more good in the area,” said Dave Allen, administry director for giving for Franciscans in Collaborative Ministry.

On Feb. 5, Bishop Thomas Costello blessed the renovated and expanded food pantry and medical clinic, which will begin operating in two weeks from the bottom floor of Assumption Church, 812 N. Salina St. Over 120 volunteers, supporters and clergy attended the ceremony as well as the blessing and dedication ceremony of the new Assisi Center, located a few doors away at 800 N. Salina St.

The Franciscans purchased the Assisi Center, formerly Gang Memorial Chapel, in November of 2000. The top floor of the three-story building is home to the administrative offices of Franciscans in Collaborative Ministries. The second floor, once the showroom for the chapel, is for rent. The spacious first floor, complete with tall windows and hardwood floors, will serve as a community center.

The Franciscans –– and their tradition of community service –– have a long history in Syracuse of helping those living on the margins of society. Their work in the city dates back to the 1850’s, when Franciscan friars and sisters moved to the city to minister to the growing German community. In 1869, Franciscan sisters founded what is now St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center.

In 1997, at the request of Bishop Moynihan eight Franciscan friars moved to Syracuse’s North Side to help identify areas needing assistance in the community. Two years later, they joined the Franciscans of Assumption Church and the Sisters of the Third Franciscan Order to create Franciscans in Collaborative Ministry. The organization follows the example of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi who, through their devoted service to others, were beacons of peace and love.

With 35 percent of families on the North Side living below the poverty level, now, more than ever, there is a growing need to provide food and medical services to the poor and uninsured, said Allen.

“We are focused on the immediate needs of the North Side,” he stated. “There are residents in this area with big problems, such as no insurance and nothing to eat for dinner. We have been blessed, through private grants and donations, to address these issues.”

Assumption’s food panty is open five days a week. Recipients are divided geographically by the Food Consortium, said Sister Stella Maris Zuccolillo, OSF, who helps run the pantry. While the Consortium outlines who the pantry can give food boxes to, she noted that Assumption also operates a sandwich program, distributing sandwiches seven days a week to anyone who is hungry. Each month, in addition to the 250 families that are served, the pantry hands out 8,000 to 10,000 sandwiches.

“The food pantry at Assumption is the only one in the area that has a double program –– serving both food boxes and sandwiches,” Sister Stella Maris said. “There are people in this community who really need this kind of help and our services are an opportunity to reach out to them.”

For nearly 100 years, Assumption has operated the pantry as a “back-door” operation, with the Franciscans serving meals and sandwiches directly from the rectory door. According to Sister Stella Maris, the newly renovated bottom floor of the church creates more space to store and prepare food, and it also allows the people who come to the pantry to get out of the elements. She added that because the pantry has moved to a more visible spot on Salina Street, Assumption may see an increase in the number of sandwiches handed out –– which will also trigger a need for more volunteers to help run the pantry.

“Getting volunteers has never been a problem. There are already people, who have heard that we have expanded, calling and wanting to help,” said Sister Stella Maris, adding, “Without the dedication of its volunteers, the pantry would never be as it is.”

The Poverello Family Medical Services Center, which opened in March of 2000 at 804 N. Salina St., will also be located on Assumption’s bottom floor. “Poverello,” which in Italian means “Poor Little Man,” –– a nickname of St. Francis –– served more than 550 uninsured people last year who needed medical assistance. Allen said the new space is larger and offers more privacy.

In addition to the expanded food pantry and medical services, a weekly legal clinic, which offers free legal counseling, will continue operating at 804 N. Salina St.

Father Canice Connors, OFM Conv., minister provincial of the Conventual Franciscan Friars, said the Franciscans plan to implement more services in the future to help the North Side. “It begins always, as Francis said, in small ways and extends because of God’s presence,” he stated during the dedication ceremony.

St. Francis once said, “Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words.” In this spirit the Franciscan community will continue administering to the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs on the North Side –– and to those everywhere who are struggling. “For us to help serve the less fortunate, using our time, talent and treasure, following in the footsteps of St. Francis, is a marvelous experience,” said Allen.

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