One never knows who might be found sipping a cup of joe in the house just down the block from the Franciscan Church of the Assumption on Syracuse’s North side.
Every Tuesday morning for some 15 years, the door at 804 North Salina Street has been open to anyone interested in a little bit of coffee and conversation. The free coffee and donuts program was started as a way for the Franciscan community at Assumption to get to know the people and the needs in the neighborhood, Sister Dolly Bush, OSF, said. “We opened the door to see what would happen. At first it was one or two people, and then it began to grow,” she said.
Most Tuesdays now see about 30 people settling into one of the house’s comfortable seats, Sister Dolly said. In the years since she helped start the weekly program, Sister Dolly says she’s seen everyone from a New York City opera singer to a couple from Australia come through the door. But the usual guests are people who live in the surrounding neighborhood or those who might not have a place to call home. On a recent Tuesday morning, guests and volunteers, long-time and newer alike — all greeted by name — agreed: It’s the all-are-welcome atmosphere, the chance to talk with friendly people and the sense of community that draws them to the weekly gathering. The pastries, donated by Biscotti Café & Gelateria up the street, only sweeten the deal. Laughter and chatter echoed throughout the house.
Coffee and donuts was the first of several community outreach programs offered by Franciscan Northside Ministries. The ministries have since expanded to include a women’s group; a monthly free pancake breakfast; a week-long Peace Camp for children held each February; a legal clinic offering free legal advice and referrals twice per week; and the Poverello Health Center, which provides free health care for people who are uninsured.
Sister JP Ridgeo, OSF, can still remember the first patient the health center saw in 2000, back when the clinic operated out of the same house as the coffee and donuts program. His name was John, she said, and he came in with an ear infection. The clinic had been open for about three weeks, but no patients had visited, so when John came in, “there were four people all over [him],” Sister JP laughed. A few hours after being treated by the doctor, John called the clinic from a pay phone. “He said, ‘I just want to thank you church ladies for all you did. I’ll tell my friends,’” Sister JP recalled. “That’s how it [started to] spread.”
These days, the clinic provides care to 30 to 40 people on each of two nights per week, Sister JP said. Mostly, “We see the working poor,” she said during a tour through the clinic. “They’re working at a job where they’re mopping floors or washing dishes part-time. That’s why a lot of them don’t have insurance — because they can’t afford it.” The clinic also cares for some patients who are homeless, Sister JP said.
The clinic is composed of exam rooms and office space in Assumption’s parish center at 808 North Salina Street. A team of volunteer doctors, nurse practitioners and nurses donate their time to help staff the clinic, and patients can get physicals, exams and some medications free of charge; a small fee is charged for blood work, Sister JP said. The fee helps patients “participate in their care,” she said. “Also, we wouldn’t be able to keep up with the costs ourselves. We survive on donations.”
All of the ministries depend on donations, and several years ago, ministries staff and volunteers began asking, “‘How can we continue to fund what we’re doing?’” Sister Dolly said. The result was Sweet Sensations, a cabaret-style evening to raise funds to support the ministries.
This year’s Sweet Sensations cabaret will be held Nov. 9 at the Franciscan Center, 2500 Grant Blvd., Syracuse; doors will open at 6:30 p.m. Entertainment will be provided by Moe Harrington and friends, offering a musical tribute to the Rat Pack. Homemade cookies, pastries and confections will be served; wine will be available for purchase. A silent auction and gift basket raffle will be held. Tickets are $25 and reservations are encouraged; call (315) 423-9961 for more information.
Franciscan Northside Ministries offers free coffee and donuts every Tuesday morning from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at 804 N. Salina St., Syracuse. The legal clinic offers free legal assistance and advice to those in need at the same site on Tuesdays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The Poverello Health Center, 808 N. Salina St., Syracuse, provides free health care to those without insurance on Monday and Wednesday evenings from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. For more information about Franciscan Northside Ministries, visit assumptionchurchsyracuse.org.